Dáil debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Declaration of a Housing Emergency: Motion [Private Members]

 

7:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Ó Broin who will share time with Deputies Carthy, Conway-Walsh, Cronin and Martin Kenny.

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

That Dáil Éireann: acknowledges that Fine Gael supported by Fianna Fáil or vice versa have held the Ministerial portfolio for Housing since 2016;

notes that:
— the Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party coalition Government has been in office for two and a half years;

— during this time the Government's housing policies have failed, and the housing crisis has deepened;

— the current Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O'Brien TD, believes that housing is not in a state of emergency;

— rents and house prices have passed their Celtic Tiger peak and are still rising;

— homelessness is at levels never seen before, with child homelessness up by 51 per cent since April 2021;

— an entire generation of people are locked out of secure and affordable homes;

— waiting lists for social housing are too long, and eligibility thresholds remain too low;

— the student accommodation crisis is forcing some students out of third-level education;

— the Traveller Community, migrants, people with disabilities and older people continue to experience discrimination in the housing system;

— those seeking international protection continue to live in inadequate accommodation, while thousands of people granted asylum are unable to find a pathway out of Direct Provision; and

— in response to the deepening housing crisis, Raise the Roof, the trade union and civil society-led housing campaign, has called a major rally for housing in Dublin on 26th November; and
agrees to:
— declare a housing emergency; and

— call on people to support the 26th November Raise the Roof rally for housing in Dublin.

A number of weeks ago, the Minister and I participated in a television debate. During the course of that debate, he was asked a very straightforward question as to whether he believed we were experiencing a housing emergency. I have to say the Minister's response not only astonished me and the journalist interviewing us but it astonished most people watching the programme. The reason is that in the months leading up to the television programme house prices had reached historic highs, higher than any other period before, and were continuing to rise. Rents had reached historic highs and were continuing to rise. Homelessness had reached levels we never thought possible.

It is interesting to reflect for a moment on what has happened in the intervening two weeks. The Minister published a report for his housing plan for the third quarter of the year with no updates on the delivery of social or affordable rent or affordable purchase homes by that time. The reason, of course, is that as of the end of the third quarter, he is behind target. We had documents released from the Department stating that rather than needing 33,000 new homes to underpin the plan, the figure is in fact at least 42,000. Only last week, we had the Central Statistics Office, CSO, property price index showing house prices continuing to rise out of control at 10% State-wide, 14% in the midlands and 17% on the western seaboard. We also had, within a matter of hours of this, the Department releasing the latest commencement data showing commencements are falling by 14%, which is a very significant drop.

Probably most astonishing of all, the Sunday Independent got access to a Cabinet memo which showed that at the end of the third quarter, the Minister was behind the expenditure expected by that period by almost €500 million. Interestingly, one of the other things included in that newspaper report was that Lorcan Sirr, who has done very detailed analysis of the Minister's plan, stated that even if all of the targets are met, home ownership as a percentage of the total housing stock will continue to decline over the coming years. On top of it all, this morning we had the latest Daft.ie rent report. Rents are at the highest level of increase since Daft.ie records began in 2006, at 14% State-wide. Most counties in the State had increases in the high teens and a number had increases of 20%, 22% and 24%. In Dublin, where the Minister and I represent the electorate, the cost of an average new rental is €28,000 a year. This is truly astonishing.

Of course, behind all of these figures is a human cost. There is a social and an economic cost. We are speaking about schools that have no teachers to teach children. We are speaking about hospitals that do not have nurses to care for our family members. Medical centres are without young GPs. We are told that in some cases students are giving up college courses because they cannot find accommodation. Children are sleeping not only in hostels but we are even seeing increases of children sleeping in cars and tents. As the Business Post reported the weekend before last, we now see young people with a good education and good job prospects actively considering emigrating.

This is why the level of public anger at the failure of the Minister's housing policies is rising every day. This is why the Raise the Roof campaign led by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the entire trade union movement, civil society, homeless organisations, housing organisations and Opposition parties will be on the streets of Dublin, having met at Parnell Square at 1 p.m., to tell the Minister very clearly his housing policies are failing and we need to see change. What is very important about the Raise the Roof demonstration is that it is not just a demonstration of anger and frustration at the failure of the Minister and his colleagues. It is also a march of hope. One of the things that Raise the Roof is trying to do, and the Minister will hear this from all of the Opposition today, is to say there is an alternative.

The Taoiseach stood in front of us during Leaders' Questions and said there is no alternative to the Minister's plan. I have to say, as somebody who has been in the House for six years, there are many alternatives, which the Minister has ignored, and we are giving him some tonight. The first is to declare an emergency. Yes, it is a symbolic act and a statement of intent but if the Minister declared an emergency and the House declared an emergency, then as night follows day emergency actions must follow. What are these emergency actions? Given where rents are at, particularly rents not covered by rent pressure zones, we have to ban rent increases for an emergency period. There is no other way to protect renters. We also have to give renters a real refundable tax credit that puts up to one month's rent back in their pockets and not the ill-conceived and ill-designed relief the Minister has belatedly proposed. We also have to introduce an end to no-fault evictions whereby those who are abiding by their contracts can remain in place.

We need to see a doubling of Housing First as 240 tenancies a year is not enough. We need at least 500. We need to increase dramatically the tenants in situscheme. Many local authorities, including mine, are still not buying properties because the Minister has not given them adequate instruction and guidance. We need to ensure that properties such as Tathony House, where there are social renters and potential cost renters at risk of mass eviction, are purchased subject to the structural integrity of the property and the price.

We have to increase and accelerate the supply of social and affordable homes. The Minister's targets are too low. He is not meeting them and he needs to be more ambitious. Year after year, we publish detailed alternative fully costed budgets setting out what this looks like and how we would deliver 20,000 social and affordable homes every year, with 4,000 affordable rental and 4,000 affordable purchase. We need much more serious action on vacancy. There is no reason we could not be taking at least 4,000 vacant and derelict properties a year if the schemes were properly designed and introduced.

We need to use high-grade, long-term, good-quality modular building technology. At least 1,000 new permanent homes year could be done. Of course, all of this could be done if the Minister grappled with the red tape and bureaucracy of his Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, gave local authorities the funding in advance, took off the shackles and let them build the capacity at a more accelerated rate than he has done to date.

The Minister will often tell us that none of this can be done. What he actually means is that he does not have the political will to do it. It can be done and it must be done. The opening sentence of what must be the longest countermotion in the history of the Oireachtas, running to five pages and almost 2,000 words saying virtually nothing, is that the Minister states his plan is working. What he means is he will carry on regardless, irrespective of the cost to workers, families and children.

I have said on number of occasions that it is clear the Minister will not listen to the Opposition. He said when he took office that he would listen to constructive ideas and engage. In fact it is very difficult even to get him to the housing committee to give updates on reports, unlike his two predecessors. It is clear the Minister is not listening to us. Let me say this to all of those people who will hear the debate and the message from a united Opposition, trade union movement and NGO sector today. If the Minister will not listen to us, he will have to listen to the voice of the people. This Saturday in Dublin, and on future Saturdays into next year, people in their thousands, including Sinn Féin voters, Opposition voters, Government voters and non-voters, will tell the Minister loud and clear that his plan is not working, that it is failing and that it is making people's lives worse.

The Minister has very simple choice. He can join with us and declare an emergency and finally accept he has to change the housing policy. If he does not do so, the people will change the Government. It has happened before and it will happen again. I urge everybody, irrespective of their political views, if they are directly affected by the housing crisis, if their friends, family or community are affected by the crisis, they should be on the streets of Dublin on Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Garden of Remembrance behind the Raise the Roof banner to demand a change of housing policy. After two and a half years, the Minister is out of time. We urgently need change.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Rents are out of control. The average cost of new rents in the State is now almost €1,700 per month, touching €3,000 per month in Dublin. The situation is getting worse and not better. Today's report from Daft.ie shows the highest increases since records began. That is an emergency. House prices are out of control. The cost of buying a house has increased by 128% since 2013. This situation is getting worse and not better. Couples who in any other generation would be living in their own homes are instead sleeping in the box rooms of their parents' houses. This is an emergency. Homelessness is out of control. There are now almost 11,000 people in emergency accommodation, the highest number ever recorded. The situation is getting worse and not better. Every month the figures are rising as men, women and children throughout the State find themselves the victims of a merciless housing market that has been carefully fostered by successive Governments. This is an emergency.

In a nutshell, we are living in the middle of a housing emergency. One of the reasons for this emergency, and among the few people who failed to recognise this, is the Minister with responsibility for housing. He tells us that things are getting betting under his watch when all the evidence tells a different story.

The Taoiseach tells us the Government's housing plan is working despite the testimonies of thousands of workers and families who tell us every day that it is failing them. The Tánaiste's helpful contribution was to tell our young people, who have no place to live, that rents might be higher in New York. The Government lacks the ambition, policies and determination to turn this emergency around or to embark on a public home-building programme on a scale that is necessary to resolve the source of the problem. In the meantime, the Government should reduce and freeze rents to give renters a break. It should face up to the vultures and cuckoo funds that have turned our housing market into a cesspit of profiteering.

We are halfway through this Government's term in office and one thing is crystal clear: we do not need a change of Taoiseach. We need a change of Government and we need it quickly if we are to prevent the loss of another generation to forced emigration due to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael's failure to recognise the scale of this emergency and address it with the required measures.

8:00 pm

Photo of Rose Conway-WalshRose Conway-Walsh (Mayo, Sinn Fein)
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The motion calls on the Government to declare a housing emergency, which extends to student accommodation. Students are being forced to defer courses or to live in wholly unacceptable arrangements. The last three budgets of this Government did nothing for student accommodation, despite there being projects that could deliver 3,000 student beds that were just sitting on the shelf, as the Minister knows. The attitude of the Government, which students and I despair about, is to take our time. There is no sense of emergency in what the Government is doing. We spent the past two hours listening to Government Members lauding themselves for the few pennies they gave to people on social welfare, and yet rents continue to rise.

In Mayo, new rents have increased by an average of 18.5% this year. Over the past two years, I have raised the need to expand rent pressure zones in Mayo, particularly in Westport. On top of this, Mayo is left out of the affordable housing scheme. The Taoiseach will come into the Chamber and say nobody has given him any ideas to do anything. The Minister justifies this by claiming that Mayo does not have an affordability issue, but people are being pushed into poverty and homelessness. The Minister has told the people in Mayo, on several occasions that this is no emergency. A few months ago, I pleaded with him to extend the existing housing policy. Imagine one's rent going from €970 to €1,650 per month, as happened in Westport.

Last night, I attended another pyrite meeting in Westport and listened to homeowners in despair about what is ahead of them with rebuilding and finding alternative accommodation, with no houses to rent when they want to move. Will the Minister give money to Mayo County Council to build modular homes in Westport to allow people to leave their homes, on a temporary basis, so that their homes can be rebuilt? In addition, will they be able to rent from people they know, not necessarily landlords because there are none in Westport, so that they can move out of their houses? I speak on behalf of people in Mayo, and in other counties, who are living in social houses impacted by pyrite. They are watching the houses fall down around them, while other such houses are vacant. They need the money to get those houses fixed or rebuilt. Anyone who thinks there is not a housing emergency should come to Mayo and talk to the people there.

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I do not want to hurt the Taoiseach's sensitive feelings about who used the word "emergency" first. When it comes to housing, we are at it. Our Uachtaráin, a man who is never at a loss for finding the right word, called it a "disaster" when he visited my constituency of Kildare North a few months ago. A decent home is normally an indication of a decent society, but it has become a privilege under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, while they stand over the cruel status quo they have created over the past 100 years. The Green Party stands idly by, as the Labour Party did before it.

We in Sinn Féin ran a housing survey in Kildare. A hardworking couple with two young children responded:

We have moved nine times since our five-year-old was born due to the insecurity of private renting. Our rent has increased by €600 since our first rented accommodation. We barely see each other as we are working alternative shifts for the children to be minded because childcare is so expensive. We have debt we cannot afford to pay back. We have no security blanket to fall on if one of us were to become unable to go to work. We have had to cut down on groceries, go weeks at a time with no oil as we cannot afford the increase in price, yet we wear ourselves out working just to get by. We make too much for social housing and nowhere near enough to ever afford a mortgage or even pay off the debt we took out on our car. We have struggled since we left college and we are still not stable. Our children have no home.

This family is not alone. In north Kildare, people in their 60s are sofa surfing or sleeping in box rooms or in their cars. Younger people, who are parents, are now back living with their parents or grandparents, who thought they would have the house to themselves.

The Government has had its chance on housing multiple times and it has failed and it still has the support of "I'm alright Jacks". If you are not an I'm alright Jack or Jacqueline, if you believe in society and community, if you believe that a home is a human right, or if you believe it is not alright for people not to have a home in a modern economy in the 21st century, come out on Saturday and show solidarity at 1 o'clock, Parnell Square, and raise the roof.

Photo of Martin KennyMartin Kenny (Sligo-Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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We are asking the Minister to declare a housing emergency. It is not just about declaring the emergency, but it is about taking emergency action to resolve the crisis that exists in every constituency across the country. In my constituency of Sligo-Leitrim, rents have risen an average of 6.6% per quarter in the past year. Rent is €1,098, on average, in County Leitrim, which is where the lowest rents of the country are. That is unaffordable for the vast majority of working people. The increase in Sligo is even higher. This is happening across the entire country, yet the Minister and the Government are trying to tell us that their plan is working. Who is it working for? It is not working for the people who come into my constituency office. It is not working for the woman, a single mother with two children, who rang me last week. She received a notice to leave after the house she was renting was sold and she had to leave. She could find nowhere to go. She moved in with her sister and her sister's husband. She is now living in a spare room where she will spend Christmas. She has no options or choices. She cannot get on to the council housing list because she works in a nursing home and is slightly above the income threshold of €26,000.

These issues are not being dealt with by the Government. The so-called housing plan is a plan for big developers and corporate interests to come in and buy up houses across the country and charge huge rents to ordinary decent people who cannot afford them. There are people who cannot survive without intervention and that intervention has to come from the Government. It is clear the proposals tabled by Sinn Féin and the Opposition umbrella group are seeking change. The Government must look to a different way forward. It has to find a new way that will deliver for people. That way forward must include the building of more social and affordable houses, and to make sure they are truly affordable. A house that is way beyond the reach of ordinary working people is not affordable. The Government continues to call them affordable. When Sinn Féin councillors from different parts of the country express concerns about this, the Government says they are objecting to houses. The only people who objected to houses in my constituency were Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors. There were ten social houses being built in my town of Ballinamore. When they were being proposed at the council meeting, local Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael councillors were the only ones who objected to them. Yet, the Government continues to trot out this idea that somehow the Opposition is the problem. The problem is the Minister's policies, because he is failing not just this generation but the next.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following: "notes that:
— the Housing for All: A New Housing Plan for Ireland, the Government's housing plan, is working, and supply, which is key to improving our housing system, is increasing, and to the end of September over 55,000 homes were either commenced (27,417) or completed (27,773), the number of completions in the first three quarters of 2022 was greater than the total for 2021 or any full year since the Central Statistics Office completions series began;

— a record €4.5 billion in State housing investment will be made available in 2023, and this will underpin the ambitious Housing for All plan and deliver the largest State home building programme ever, with 9,100 direct build social homes and 5,500 affordable homes; and €1.3 billion will be spent on affordability measures, supporting homeownership in 2023; and

— in spite of shutdowns in construction due to the Covid-19 pandemic, economic headwinds and supply chain issues due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 2022 will see the highest overall housing delivery, highest social housing delivery, highest affordable housing delivery, highest Cost Rental delivery and highest number of first-time buyers in over a decade;
further notes that, with regard to:
— the delivery of social housing:
— the 2021 Summary of Social Housing Assessments showed that there was a 4.3 per cent decrease in the number of households assessed as being qualified for, and in need of, social housing support in 2020 and there has been a 35.3 per cent decrease in the social housing waiting list since 2016, when the first annual assessment was conducted;

— despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, over 23,300 households had their housing needs met in 2021, when 9,183 social homes were provided even though most residential construction was halted for a 13-week period from January to April;

— this year will see the largest social housing delivery in generations; and

— in addition, at the end of Q2 this year, over 77,500 household tenancies were supported under the Housing Assistance Payment and the Rental Accommodation Scheme;
— income eligibility for social housing:
— the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has recently approved changes to the social housing income eligibility bands for five local authorities – Carlow, Clare, Galway County, Laois and Westmeath – with the baseline income threshold for these areas increasing from €25,000 to €30,000, these changes came into effect from 1st October, 2022; and

— the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has subsequently further approved an additional nationwide €5,000 increase in all Social Housing income bands with effect from 1st January, 2023;
— affordable housing delivery:
— its continued roll-out is key to improving our housing system, and acknowledges that 2022 is the first full year of affordable housing delivery in a generation;

— Cost Rental housing – a new form of State-backed secure, long-term rental tenure through which rents are aimed at a minimum of 25 per cent below open market rates – is being delivered at scale, and that hundreds of Cost Rental homes are now tenanted;

— the Government's new First Home Shared Equity Scheme, which was introduced in July, is proving very successful, with already almost 700 applications approved for first-time buyers;

— the Government's new Croí Cónaithe (Towns) Fund Scheme, a vacant or derelict property grant of up to €50,000, has received over 400 applications to date, and the scheme has been extended to cover city centre and rural areas this month;

— local authority-provided affordable purchase schemes are also being delivered, enabling people to purchase homes at discounted rates in return for the local authority holding equity in the home; and

— the Local Authority Home Loan scheme, for first-time buyers and fresh start applicants on low or modest incomes who cannot get sufficient funding from commercial lenders, has been expanded;
— tackling supply and affordability issues in the rental market:
— the Government has strengthened renters' rights and controls on rent increases, and in Budget 2023 the Government is making a €500 credit available to every renter, backdated to 2022;
— tenancy protections have been enhanced, including for those in student specific accommodation, under a number of recent Rental Bills providing stronger rent controls and security of tenure:
— from 11th December, 2021, a cap of two per cent per annum pro rata applies to rent increases in Rent Pressure Zones (RPZs) when the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices inflation rate is higher; rent reviews outside of RPZs can, until 2025, occur no more frequently than bi-annually; and this provides rent certainty for tenants outside of RPZs for a minimum two-year period at a time;

— since August 2021, the total amount that a tenant is required to pay to a landlord by way of a deposit or an advance rent payment to secure a tenancy has been restricted (i.e. any deposit cannot exceed one month's rent and any advance rent payment cannot exceed one month's rent), therefore, a restriction of the equivalent of one month's rent is also placed on the amount that a tenant is obliged to pay as a regular advance rent payment to a landlord during a tenancy; and

— to enhance security of tenure for tenants, all new tenancies created on or after 11th June, 2022 will become tenancies of unlimited duration once the tenancy has lasted more than six months and no valid Notice of Termination has been served on the tenant;
— furthermore, from 6th July, 2022:
— extended notice periods, by approximately two months, are to be given to tenants when serving a Notice of Termination (where there has been no breach of tenant obligations) in tenancies of less than three years duration; and

— the period from the date of receipt of a 'no fault' Notice of Termination for a tenant to submit a dispute to the Residential Tenancies Board for resolution is increased from 28 days to 90 days; and
— the Government intends to commission a comprehensive review of the private rental sector to take account the significant regulatory changes over the past several years, some of which is detailed above; and the review, which will be complete by the end of June 2023, will ensure that our housing system provides an efficient, affordable, safe and secure framework for both landlords and tenants; and
— student accommodation:
— in October, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science updated the Cabinet Committee on Housing and received support on initial plans for policy development for the provision of student accommodation, and the Minister and his Department are actively progressing a new policy that bridges the challenging gap between the viability of delivering purpose-built student accommodation and subsequent rental affordability for students; and

— this will include, for the first time, the State assisting with the cost of building student accommodation beds and unlocking projects which have been postponed in return for affordable rents for target students; and detailed work is currently being advanced with a section dedicated to student accommodation having been established in the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science;
acknowledges that the increase in homelessness seen in recent months is a serious concern for Government, and this is being actively addressed:
— by legislating for a temporary measure that protects renters who are facing homelessness by deferring any 'no fault' tenancy terminations from taking place this winter; and while this emergency measure is necessary and provides assistance in the short-term, the long-term answer to these accommodation challenges remains an increased and sustainable supply of new homes, such as through the State-led expanded social and affordable housing programmes operating under the Housing for All strategy; and

— Budget 2023 provides funding of over €215 million, an increase of 10 per cent on last year, for the delivery of homeless prevention measures, emergency accommodation and to support households to successfully exit homelessness;
the Government is progressing a number of specific actions to address the housing needs of these households and those at risk of becoming homeless, through a wide range of support programmes, including:
— a new voids programme for 2022 with increased funding;

— reinstating delegated sanction to allow local authorities to pursue appropriate acquisitions;

— modifications to the Repair and Leasing Scheme, to open up more opportunities to include conversion of commercial units to residential, increasing the number of 'Housing First' tenancies for those entrenched in homelessness;

— expanding outreach services;

— the National Homeless Action Committee has been established, which ensures the continued coherence and coordination of homeless related services, policies and actions; the new Housing First National Implementation Plan 2022-2026 has also been published and expands Housing First targets, with over 1,300 new Housing First tenancies to be introduced over the next five years;

— Ireland has signed the Lisbon Declaration on the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness, committing to working towards the ending of homelessness by 2030;

— the Youth Homelessness Strategy 2023-2025 was published by Minister O'Brien on 9th November, 2022; and

— in the immediate term, in Dublin, there are over 400 additional beds due to come on stream through a combination of new short-term leasing agreements, the opening of a new family facility and the re-opening of a facility following temporary closure for essential works; and over half of these additional beds will be operational in the coming weeks, the remainder in the coming months;
furthermore, acknowledges that, with regard to:
— supporting the delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation:
— capital funding was fully drawn-down by local authorities in the past two years, amounting to €14.5 million in 2020, and €15.5 million in 2021, with the capital funding for 2022 amounting to €18 million for Traveller-specific accommodation, ensuring that funding is on a sustainable path for the provision of timely accommodation to meet the needs of Traveller families and funding will increase further in 2023 to €20 million; and

— a mid-term review of local authority Traveller Accommodation Programmes 2019 to 2024 is currently being undertaken by local authorities, and this Government, working with the local authorities, will continue on its objective of delivering Traveller-specific accommodation, now within the framework of Housing for All strategy and ensuring that a range of accommodation options are available;
— housing supports for disabled and older people:
— the new National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2022-2027, commits to ensuring that affordable, quality housing with an appropriate mix of housing design types provided within social housing, including universally designed units, is available to everyone in Irish society, including those with disabilities and older people;

— an implementation plan for the strategy will be published by year end to include actions for three Departments and a number of agencies; and a comprehensive eight-month consultation period informed the development of the strategy and identified the key policy and practical steps that need to be in place to achieve its aims; and

— disabled and older people are entitled to all of the housing supports and have access to all schemes in like manner with other citizens; returns from local authorities indicate an increase year-on-year in allocations of social housing to households with disability as a primary basis of need; and in 2016 there were 1,179 such households accommodated increasing to 2,093 households in 2020 representing 11 per cent of total allocations for 2020, while data for 2021 is currently being compiled by the Housing Agency; and
— planning:
— the first comprehensive Planning Consolidation Bill in a quarter of a century will be brought to Government in December and will streamline, simplify and accelerate planning;

— innovative new Kenny report style powers will be introduced in a new Planning Bill in December; and

— the overhaul and resourcing of An Bord Pleanála will be legislated for in the coming weeks; and
the Government remains fully committed to the implementation of Housing for All strategy and achieving the targets set out within, and the Housing for All action plan update, published on 2nd November, allows the Government to redouble its efforts on priority measures to activate and accelerate the delivery of housing supply."

Nothing is more important to this country than tackling the housing crisis head on. After a decade of under supply, rents are too high. We know that. The level of home building is too low and too many young people cannot buy their own home.

Far too many of our most vulnerable are without a safe and secure roof over their heads. That said, there is cause for optimism and hope. Housing for All is the biggest housing plan in the history of our State. It is the single biggest intervention that any Government has made in housing. It invests more than €4 billion per year, an unprecedented amount, to build 300,000 new homes between now and 2030. It is a fundamental step change in housing policy on a scale we have not seen before. Capital funding was only €400 million in 2016 and next year, it will be €4.5 billion. In addition, we are overhauling our planning laws to cut red tape and streamline approvals to help get Ireland building. For the first time, there is a fully funded, whole-of-government approach which encompasses every single Department. We need all hands on deck to address this crisis.

After a decade of undersupply, completions and planning permissions are up and first-time buyer levels are at the highest level since 2008. Those are facts. The plan is starting to work and will deliver 300,000 new homes by 2030 to finally help to solve the housing crisis we are in. More than 27,000 units were completed in the past 12 months alone, with planning permission for more than 44,000 granted. The scale of the challenge is enormous. Housing is an emergency for all of those people who are homeless, struggling to pay rent or trying to find somewhere affordable to buy. I have repeatedly said that. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however, and Housing for All will get us there.

It is important to put on the record of the House some of the key measures that have already been brought forward. We have established the game-changing first-home shared equity scheme to help people who are stuck in a rental trap to buy their own home. We expanded the help-to-buy scheme, with €30,000 available for first-time buyers, and introduced a new grant of €50,000 for vacant and derelict properties to help people with the cost of buying those homes. The first affordable purchase homes in well over a decade have been delivered through local authorities this year, with starting prices of €166,000 in Dublin. We have established the fresh start principle in State housing schemes to support divorced and separated people and introduced a renter's tax credit worth €1,000 in 2023 for each renter. We have made cost rental a reality, after it had been spoken about for years, with rents at least 25% below the market price and tenants now in place. We have expanded the tenant purchase scheme eligibility to include pensioners, passed our first Affordable Housing Act and revamped and capitalised the Land Development Agency, LDA, to focus on affordable and social homes.

We have banned co-living and will end build-to-rent only apartments. We have capped rent increases and brought back 6,000 voids already and we will bring 2,500 more voids this year. We have expanded the very valuable Housing First programme to 1,300 new tenancies for vulnerable homeless people and, recognising the extraordinary pressures people are under, we have brought forward and introduced a winter eviction ban. I assure the Dáil that I will use every weapon in our armoury to get bricks and mortar on the ground for homes that working people can afford and support those without adequate shelter.

Unfortunately, today's motion is about semantics rather than action. Housing for All is a plan for the next decade but one that Deputy Ó Broin threw out after just one day. However, neither the Deputy or any other Opposition Member has produced any detailed plan comparable to Housing for All. Sinn Féin has been way behind the Government on policy decisions. It called for €2.8 billion in capital funding, which is much less than the €4 billion Government is providing, yet it will still say it will build more homes for less money. That does not add up.

Sinn Féin did not even specify how much money it would invest in housing in its pre-budget submission just a couple of months ago because it knows it would be less than the Government has provided, which combines Exchequer, Housing for All and LDA funding. I take it the Deputies opposite do not wish to see schemes such as Shanganagh Castle, which is under way and will produce 600 cost rental, affordable and social homes, because they oppose the LDA and voted against it.

8:10 pm

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

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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We know that Sinn Féin does not believe-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We campaigned for that for years.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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For a decade.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I did not interrupt any of the Deputies once. We know Sinn Féin does not believe in home ownership.

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

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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It is plainly obvious.

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

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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What does Sinn Féin's alternative budget propose to do?

(Interruptions).

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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It proposes to abolish the help-to-buy grant which has helped 32,000 homeowners.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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That is not what we are hearing.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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It will scrap the first home scheme that has already issued more than 670 approval certificates to people, many of whom are stuck in a rental trap, to help them buy their own home. Sinn Féin opposed that.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It is pushing up house prices.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Inexplicably, there is something wrong with giving homeowners a grant to help to do up vacant and derelict properties.

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

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Sinn Féin opposed that scheme, Croí Cónaithe, as well.

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

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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We know for a fact, which Sinn Féin does not like, that the party continues to oppose housing developments------

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Absolutely not.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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-----throughout the country.

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

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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In Dublin alone, it has opposed developments to build more than 6,000 houses.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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This is desperation.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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While Sinn Féin's motion is about semantics and takes a cynical approach, I want to know what practical measures it will bring forward. I will seek its support later this year and I ask whether it will support the emergency planning measures the Government will bring forward-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Publish them.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Publish them.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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-----to expedite delivery of more social homes.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Let us see them.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy will not confirm whether he will support measures to expedite and increase the number of social homes.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister has not published the measures.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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We have to read them first.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister should sit down.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Furthermore-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister is an embarrassment to the State.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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He is an embarrassment to his party and the country.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputies, please.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I did not interrupt any of the speakers from the Opposition side.

Photo of Matt CarthyMatt Carthy (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister is asking for a blank cheque.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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This just shows the discourteous nature-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister asked a question. We are replying.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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-----of their engagements all the time. They do not like the facts and try to shout people down.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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There are 4,000 children in emergency accommodation on the Minister's watch.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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That is a fact.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The reality of the situation-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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He is probably the worst housing Minister we have had for decades.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputies, please.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister should sit down rather than embarrass himself further.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Deputies, please.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Deputy to withdraw that remark. He makes personal charges all the time.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister is probably the worst housing Minister we have ever had.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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In fairness-----

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I would say he is the most unpopular as well.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy McAuliffe is due to speak as well.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Deputies have completely ignored the Chair.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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My apologies.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I ask them to stop interrupting and let the Minister finish.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I have put forward, in the short time I have had, the facts about what is actually happening. We want to put home ownership back at the centre of the solutions. We will build more social homes this year than we have done in decades.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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No, you will not.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I ask the Deputies opposite to ask their colleagues to stop objecting to public and affordable housing on lands throughout the country.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Will the Minister show me one of those objections?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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That is something tangible they can do.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I call Deputy McAuliffe and ask that he be allowed to speak uninterrupted.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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There are no affordable homes in O'Devaney Gardens.

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Representatives of Meath and Kildare county councils recently appeared before the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage to discuss how they are implementing Housing for All. They followed the four Dublin councils and Cork, Waterford and Limerick councils, with more councils to appear before us in the new year. All of these councils are telling us the story of public homes being built in increasing numbers.

Two and a half years ago, local authorities including my own in Dublin city only had two options. They either built large, concentrated, low-income communities with insufficient staff and funds or they sold to developers with no certainty on affordability or delivery. That was not good enough. In those two and a half years, we have legislated for and activated nearly every possible supply stream in order that local authorities have more staff and a €20 billion budget. Local authorities can build council housing, affordable rental and affordable purchase homes for the first time in a decade and partner with the LDA, which we capitalised and established, or an approved housing body. They finally have the power to build mixed-income communities. Councils now have all the tools and financial resources they need to build public housing on public land. That is how to deal with a housing emergency.

Those homes may not yet be built but the Government is doing everything it can to make sure they are built. There are 25 different publicly funded and owned sites in my constituency alone, from small infill sites right up to new communities. This is public housing on public land delivered by Government Deputies who voted for budgets and Bills to deliver and respond to a decade of undersupply. Councils now have the power to have an owner-occupied guarantee on private sites. We have a double-lobby obligation on developers on private sites. Where they are not viable, we will sell homes €100,000 below the cost of construction. We will do the same on council-owned sites and sell homes at €100,000 below the cost of construction. We will between €30,000 and €50,000 is provided to turn around derelict properties. All of this is being done within a more democratic planning system by abolishing strategic housing developments, SHDs, and restoring local authorities. We have introduced a vacant homes tax and a residential zoned land tax, capped rents and deposits and, when it was possible, we protected people from eviction. All of these are real changes and action.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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How much effort has gone into it though? Well done.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The arrogance of Deputy Ó Broin shines through again.

8:20 pm

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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It is the Government that is arrogant. It is completely deluded about what is happening.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Sinn Féin has no respect at all.

Photo of Pearse DohertyPearse Doherty (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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The Government is completely deluded.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Talk to the children and families who are in emergency accommodation.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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We are building homes.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Does Deputy Ó Broin wish for his colleagues to speak to the motion?

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

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Can I have a little co-operation, please?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I will do my best to constrain myself.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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A little more, perhaps.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister must think we are suffering from collective amnesia, to think that he, as a Fianna Fáil Minister, can tell us that he will change planning laws and that we have to agree to it without seeing the legislation. He must think we are crazy. We know where the country was left when Fianna Fáil had unfettered control. We know tens of thousands of people emigrated when Fianna Fáil collapsed the economy with its friends, the builders and developers. When the Minister publishes his legislation and we see it, we will scrutinise every word, dot and comma of it. The Minister has to build trust if he wants the Opposition to support him.

The Minister says there is no housing emergency and that his plan is working. Rents have risen for the eleventh consecutive quarter. They increased nationally by 14%. In Limerick city, there was an incredible 17.1% year-on-year increase, if people could find a place to live at all. Today, two one-bedroom apartments are available, one at a cost of €1,200 and the other at €2,000. One two-bedroom apartment is available for €2,400. Three three-bedroom houses are available, starting at €1,600 and going up to €2,500. Most people cannot afford those prices. There are record levels of homelessness and house prices have increased further, beyond the affordability of the average working family, but the Government parties say there is no emergency and that the Minister is doing a swell job. This is how far they have departed from the reality of living in Ireland in 2022. They want people to believe this despite the struggles that people face in securing homes for themselves.

The parents of younger adults are affected. Many continue to host their children who have little prospect of owning a home, yet the Minister says there is no emergency. A generation of young people cannot move forward in their relationships, cannot plan for children and cannot even get a quiet night in front of the television because too many people live in the house, but the Minister says there is no emergency. There are record numbers of people, including children, seeking emergency accommodation. In Limerick, there have been a number of cases in recent weeks where no spaces have been left in emergency accommodation, but yet again, the Government says there is no emergency.

The current Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has beenin situfor two and a half years. In that time, we have had the Housing for All plan, a lofty title that delivers housing for very few. The plan set low targets for home delivery and the Minister has failed to deliver on them. Incredibly, in the midst of an emergency, he left €500 million of the housing budget unspent. Every local authority could grab some of that money if the Minister cut through the bureaucracy and enabled funding to reach local authorities. The Minister cannot reach his targets, having missed his targets for social and affordable housing in 2020 and 2021, and he is now on course for a hat trick of missing his targets again in 2022.

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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Fine Gael took office on 9 March 2011 and has been in power ever since. Fianna Fáil has been in bed with Fine Gael and facilitated four years of confidence and supply before forming a Government alongside the Green Party at the last election. For years, we have listened to housing Minister after housing Minister and Taoiseach after Taoiseach tell us that the housing crisis cannot be fixed overnight. Budget after budget has been branded as being the budget that would fix the housing crisis. Eleven years on, we know that none of the parties in government can fix this crisis, because if they could, they would have done so a long time ago. Instead, we have had missed targets and false promises by the lorryload.

Young people are looking to airplanes as their hope for the future. The Tánaiste's comments over the weekend about the grass being greener fell flat on their face. He was left looking even more detached from the reality of what young people face in this country. Government spokespeople bang on about delivery, but all they have delivered have been record rents, record house prices and a record level of homelessness. That is the mark of this Government's delivery. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage does not acknowledge that we are in a housing crisis. This is a housing emergency for those who cannot afford their rent. It is an emergency for the workers and families who are locked out of buying their own home because institutional investors have been allowed to run riot by the Minister's Government. It is a housing emergency for the thousands of children who will not lie in a bed they call their own tonight. The Government must declare a housing emergency now.

Photo of Martin BrowneMartin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
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As was said about the Social Welfare Bill, I hope we are not in the Minister's head full-time. It seems to be an affliction on that side of the House where it talks about Sinn Féin all the time. Maybe the Government should worry about its policies for a while. While the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage may not think there is a housing emergency, for many people across Tipperary and the nation, the crisis is very real. Daft.ie has revealed the average listed rental cost across the country has hit €1,688, with a record increase of 4.3% on the previous quarter and 14.1% over the year. In County Tipperary, like other counties, there are people living in cars, tents, or sleeping on couches. The average rent increased by 12.8% since this time last year to an average monthly rent of €1,133, on top of an inflation rate of over 9%. One of the latest revelations from Tipperary is that, for 661 people in the Clonmel area, there are only ten vacant homes and only one is ready to let. That is a failure on the Minister's part and an emergency. On daft.ie, there were 17 places listed for rent in all of Tipperary this morning, with eight in the south and nine in the north.

People who have approached me include a teacher living in a car, others living in a shed and a man who dropped into my office after spending a night in a tent. There are also people living in scandalously poor conditions with mould and damp. They find themselves having to stay there and keep quiet because there is nowhere to go. I know of one case of a young woman and young child living in these conditions. After over two years with the current Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, we have 10,000 homeless people and 4,000 of them are children. That is a failure on the Minister's part and it is an emergency.

The issues do not just include rents. The costs facing young people are plainly out of reach for many. We need 20,000 public homes a year but the Government cannot deliver half of this. As Deputy Kenny said, the Minister blames Opposition parties for objecting to all developments. I ask the Minister to inquire about my town, Cashel, and which councillors objected to a scheme to build 146 houses.

A crisis needs a crisis response. Our public housing targets would deliver 20% from existing, vacant and derelict stock, and reform the approval process to accelerate the delivery of public houses. If the Minister is not ready to listen to us, then listen to the Raise the Roof rally in Dublin on Saturday, 26 November, at 1 o'clock. I encourage people to come out in significant numbers for that.

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Fianna Fáil has had two years in charge of housing and it has failed. Things have got much worse under the Minister's wardship. The Minister's failure to see this as a housing emergency is a slap in the face to the many people who come into my constituency office daily. They may be trapped in back bedrooms, on long waiting lists for social housing, or unable to afford housing. They may earn too much to be on the social housing waiting list but they cannot afford to rent because of the failed policies. Even this morning, we see on daft.ie that the increase in rents is the highest since daft.ie started to produce records. We have record levels of homelessness, with almost 11,000 people who are homeless. The Minister should look at the facts and declare a housing emergency.

Next month will see a change of Taoiseach as Fianna Fáil willingly hands the baton to Fine Gael. It is happy to hand over responsibility for the housing crisis to a party that has been in government for 11 years. Passing the baton from one failed Taoiseach to another failed Taoiseach will not fix the housing crisis. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. The incoming Taoiseach said from his ivory castle last week that the grass is not greener when it comes to the thousands of young people who are being forced to emigrate. He basically questioned our young people's intelligence with this remark. Young people will research housing, wages and the cost of living before they decide to emigrate. They make informed choices. Sinn Féin wants to see our young people come home. We want to put policies in place that will entice them to come home.

If he was the Minister responsible for housing, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin would deliver 20,000 public homes to meet social and affordable housing needs next year. This would stop multiple generations of families from living under the same roof as has happened under Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. Cost rental and real affordable purchase schemes would target those who earn too much for social housing support who cannot rent or buy at the market rates.

Putting one month's rent back into renters' pockets and introducing a ban on rent increases for three years would give renters the ability to breathe and take some pressure off the spiralling increases in rent. It is time for the Minister to do his job and accept the reality of the crisis he is overseeing. This motion also urges people to support the upcoming Raise the Roof rally in Dublin on Saturday, 26 November at 1 p.m. in Parnell Square.

8:30 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Go raibh maith agat.

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I encourage everybody to attend because there is no longer a family on this island which is not affected by the housing crisis.

Photo of Gerald NashGerald Nash (Louth, Labour)
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"Rent price inflation hits record 14.1% on back of 'extreme shortage of extreme shortage of rental homes"; "Housing starts fall again in October ... [as costs rise]"; "‘Housing crisis is putting education system at risk,' say unions ....". Those are a flavour of the headlines we woke to this morning.

Yesterday was a typical Monday for me, and probably most other Deputies, as it started with a weekly clinic. One young women with three kids and a partner was at her wits' end. She received an eviction notice in October. She is out of her rented home in April with nowhere affordable to rent. She is going to have to split up the family. She has been on the council housing list nine years and there is no sign of anything from the local authority. Another woman is single and living in a substandard two-room flat in a building with three men. She is scared stiff with fear because of the aggression and intimidation she must experience from one of them, and the landlord does not care. She has nowhere else to go because there is nowhere else to rent that is affordable. At the rate of building she could be on the housing list for at least another four years. That is the time it took to house somebody, from their application to the conclusion of the process, when I became a public representative back in 1999. Sometimes it took three years but it was four at the higher end. Most heartbreaking of all was a case I dealt with directly last week. A women and her two young children were being evicted from their home. They are on the council housing wait list a few years. In order to help, I found myself speaking over a period of days with the woman's son, who is a young child in his teens. He was advocating for his mother. Since last week he and his sibling and their mam are some of the 11,000 people who are homeless in Ireland. I am certain the Minister agrees no child should have to grow up that fast and take on the responsibility of advocating for his family who are being made homeless, but it is the reality. It is where we are now and it is shameful.

Despite this, the Government still refuses to mouth the word "emergency". "Crisis", "disaster", "emergency" - Ireland's housing situation is all these things. We need only ask the people I do my best to represent. It is nothing short of a catastrophe for them. I do not care what it is called. I do not think anybody in here really cares what it is called, and how we describe it, so long as it is fixed. However, it is not getting fixed and it is nowhere close to being fixed.

The Taoiseach's response to Deputy Bacik's questions at Leaders' Questions today was revealing. The Labour Party leader had the temerity to remind the Taoiseach it is the Government that bears responsibility for ensuring everyone has an affordable and secure home. It is a role the Government is failing to perform. Deputy Bacik welcomed the Government's U-turn on the adoption of Labour Party policy on an eviction ban and rightly welcomed last weekend's reports of impending, if belated, changes to income limits for local authority housing. Yet the Taoiseach bizarrely hit back by claiming we had no plans to fix the housing crisis and we were not being constructive. Just because he does not like our plans and does not agree with them does not mean we do not have a plan.

The Taoiseach is running out of road, as is the Government, and the facts do not lie. Housing for All simply is not delivering the rate of building we need and now the Taoiseach has resorted to blaming the Opposition for the abject failures of Government housing policy. You could not make this up. It is absolutely delusional. A plan with an underspend of almost €500 million in a year when we will see the ignominy of the highest rates of homelessness ever recorded is not a plan that is working. A plan that has in the year to date failed to spend €228 million of the money the Dáil allocated to the housing budget this year for council housing is not a plan that is working.

A home is not an investment and should not always be viewed as a commodity. The Government must stop seeing housing primarily as something the market will fix as a commodity and an opportunity to merely profit, which for too many it is. I will share another experience from my constituency with the Minister. Just two weeks ago in Drogheda we rumbled a landlord who was openly advertising up to 20 bunk beds for rent in what was a standard, slightly extended, family home. The price was €500 per month for a bunk bed in a room shared with three or four other people in a house that would be absolutely rammed. At our behest, the council intervened and took a form of action. That disgusting, greedy enterprise has now collapsed, but with record rents to collect and no explicit laws on overcrowding, in that there is no legal definition, there is nothing to stop someone else from trying this on. This is the reality of housing in this country in 2022.

It should come as no shock to the Government that these failings on housing are being exploited by far-right xenophobes across Ireland for their own disgraceful ends. The Government has overseen rents rising by 14% in one year and all it takes is a look at the Government's own recent report to see that Housing for All is failing, and failing ordinary working people. We know 11,000 people are recorded in informal homelessness figures and that is rising. Some 60,000 people are on social housing waiting lists. There will be more when the income thresholds are adjusted, as they ought to be. Housing insecurity is pervasive across all parts of Irish society. Even those we assume to be well paid are crippled under the weight of the rental sector and the most vulnerable are drowning in it.

The State has abdicated its responsibility and placed its trust disproportionately in private landlords and the private sector, that is, the market, to deliver. However, only the State has the authority, scale and mandate to crack an emergency of this scale and seriousness and definitively deal with it. It is why we said in our alternative costed budget, which we produce every year, that an additional €1.5 billion should be spent next year on social and affordable housing and ramping up cost rental. The State must revolutionise its approach by drastically scaling up and prioritising social, affordable and cost rental homes, reducing its reliance on the private sector, moving HAP tenants into social housing and bringing an end to no-fault evictions.

Our support for this motion goes way beyond the demonstration organised by my colleagues in the trade union movement on Saturday. It goes way beyond ending no-fault evictions and far beyond a rent freeze and eviction ban. It goes to the very core of Irish housing policy. The Labour Party and our fellow Opposition parties are calling for a fundamental shift in how the State views housing. There will be no tinkering around the edges because that has all been tried. It must be a fundamental shift, for that is what is required. We make no apologies whatsoever for affirming housing is not an investment but first and foremost, and always should be, about a home. We will always prioritise the rights of tenants and people to safety, warmth and shelter over the ability of landlords in the private market to make a fortune passively off the backs of vulnerable people.

The State has a moral duty to care for its people. It is the very essence of the social contract; it is the glue that binds that contract together. People agree to abide by the norms of society in return for protection and the vindication of their rights. When the State fails to vindicate their rights, the Government cannot expect everyone to be quiet and docile and to move on. We therefore urge everyone to join us, our trade union colleagues and everyone who is serious about a step-change and a revolutionary change. It is a change that should not be considered revolutionary but it is nonetheless, when compared with the policies of this Government. We want everyone to join us to raise the roof on 26 November in Dublin. We must show the Government something simple, namely, that Housing for All is failing whether the Government likes it or not. The evidence shows that. The experience shows that. The State must step up and build the homes we need, reduce rents and value housing as a home and not an investment.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Before I get into the substance of what I want to say, I will make two points about people objecting to housing. Of course, in a democratic system people have a right to put in planning submissions if they wish. For absolute clarity, the vast bulk of political representatives who submit objections to housing in my constituency are in Fianna Fáil. It is an absolute objective fact that anyone can check. The second point is that the councillors on South Dublin County Council who voted to dezone land earmarked for 100 social homes were in two parties, namely, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.

Those are just two objective facts to start with. We need as many people as possible to come to the Raise the Roof demonstration that is taking place on Saturday at 1 o'clock at the Garden of Remembrance on Parnell Square. I would encourage as many people as possible to do that and to bring their families and friends to that demonstration and protest. In order to put this Government under pressure, it is very important that everyone who is affected by the housing crisis, and everyone supporting those people, unites as much as possible, especially behind this campaign. That includes older people, younger people, renters, students, people with disabilities, members of the Travelling community, people who are homeless, people who are struggling to buy their own home and people seeking international protection. If all of us unite, there is strength in that. Ní neart go cur le chéile. There is no strength without unity.

There are five things the Government has been telling us about housing that simply are not true, and to which I want to draw the House's attention. To be constantly told things by the Government about housing that are simply not true is a form of gaslighting of people who cannot access the housing they need to have a safe, stable and secure life. The first thing is the Government tells us is that its housing plan is working. Clearly, it is not. It is not working for people who are stuck living at home. Last year alone, the number of young people aged 25 to 34 stuck living in their childhood bedrooms increased to a staggering 41%. That was a staggering increase in just one year of the Minister being in office, from 33.5% to 41%. You would not see an increase like that anywhere else in Europe. That is an incredible part of the Minister's record. People's lives are being put on hold so they cannot live independent lives. This affects their mental health, their relationships with their parents and their families, and their relationships with their partners and children living with them.

The Government's housing plan is not working for renters. Rents have doubled over the last decade. Today, Daft recorded the largest ever increase since it started collecting data, at 14.1%, as well as a 4.3% rent increase nationally just over three months. That has never been seen before since Daft has been recording those data. The housing plan is not working for people who would like to buy a home. The Government says it believes in home ownership, yet home ownership levels are continuing to collapse under this Government. As Lorcan Sirr and others have pointed out, even if the Housing for All plan met its targets, which it has not, home ownership levels would continue to collapse because the plan is based on more and more housing provision by investment funds at rates that people cannot afford. The housing plan is not working for people who have become homeless. There are record numbers of people living in emergency accommodation, not to mention all the people living in tents or sleeping on floors and couches. The number of children living in emergency accommodation has increased by 43% in the last year, while the Minister has been in office. It is not working for broader society. It is not working for people trying to run schools, hospitals and healthcare services, or all manner of businesses trying to recruit and retain staff that are finding that very difficult because of the accommodation crisis. It is not working for parents who are sick worrying about what will happen to their child's development if they get an eviction notice.

The second thing the Government has been telling us that simply is not true is that housing commencements are up. Both the Minister and the Taoiseach have been saying this in the House in the last couple of weeks. In fact, they are down 14% over the last year. The Government has been telling us that it will spend €4 billion of capital expenditure on housing this year. It is nowhere close to doing that. In fact, it is almost €500 million behind its projected spend for the first nine months of this year. The Government promised us that 9,000 new-build social homes would be built this year. The only figures we have show that in the first half of this year, 1,765 new-build homes were delivered. Drilling down into those figures, that figure is not even correct. In Dublin, for example, across the four local authorities, the number of new-build homes delivered by local authorities in Dublin in the first half of this year was zero. That is the figure behind all the hype. With regard to the social homes delivered by not-for-profit housing organisations across the four Dublin local authorities, the majority shown in the Government's figures as having been completed in the first half of this year were not actually completed and finished. That has been confirmed by the not-for-profit housing organisations that were involved in building and delivering them.

The Government tells us the State is the biggest actor in housing. The Taoiseach in particular keeps telling us this. A fact-check published on thejournal.ietoday found that this claim, which is repeatedly made, is in fact false. I welcome the purchase of homes when landlords give notices to quit in order to keep tenants in situ. We were told by the Minister that this scheme is in place and is operating around the country but then we were told by local authorities at the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage today that they will not be buying any more homes under that scheme unless they get approval from the Department. They were very clear on that and said there is no certainty on that scheme going forward. That is what they told us today at the housing committee.

We are told by the Government that things are getting better, just not at a fast enough pace. Rents have never been so high in this country. House prices have never been so high. Homelessness is at record levels. At the same time, the profits of some of Ireland's largest developers are soaring. The Government is busy patting itself on the back and saying what a great job it is doing but in terms of housing delivery, even this year's prediction of 20,000 new-build homes does not come anywhere close to the more than 40,000 new-build homes that everyone agrees we need every year. We are told by the Tánaiste that young people will be paying higher rents if they emigrate. This is absolutely delusional. According to EUROSTAT, Dublin is the most expensive capital in the European Union for renting. It is more expensive than Paris, Copenhagen, Luxembourg, Stockholm, Helsinki, Berlin, Madrid, Vienna, Lisbon, Rome and Brussels. The list goes on. Yet, we are told by the Tánaiste of this Government that people will be paying higher rents if they emigrate abroad. Is the Government that unaware of the situation in Ireland? Is it that unaware that rents have gone up 4.3% nationally just in the last three months? Is it not aware that we are the only country in Europe where rent increases are heavily contributing to the rate of inflation? That is not happening anywhere else across Europe. Is the Government completely unaware of this?

There is no shortage of solutions to these problems. There were 35,000 empty rental homes on census night, a lot of them short-term lets. To date, the Government has still failed to properly regulate short-term lets, which are disrupting the supply of rental properties available to people. This is leading to people being evicted so the rental home can be converted into a short-term let and the landlord can get a higher return. Yet the Government has failed to do anything on that. There were reports at the weekend of new-build apartments up on Airbnb for rents that would work out at about €6,000 per month. That can happen because the Government has failed utterly to regulate that area, something it could do straight away. Other measures are also needed. We need to build at least 20,000 public homes a year. The Social Democrats have provided detailed and costed plans on how that could be done. We need to introduce the Ó Cualann model and expand it across the country to make affordable purchase homes available. We need to end subsidies for developers and put that money into affordable purchase, cost rental and social homes.

I urge everybody to come to the Raise the Roof protest this Saturday at 1 o'clock, meeting at Parnell Square. I urge everyone to unite behind that campaign.

8:40 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I am sharing time with Deputies Paul Murphy and Mick Barry. In the middle of a debate on an unprecedented and utterly dire housing and homelessness emergency, the Minister responsible for housing said there is no emergency and has now left the debate before it is over.

If people did not have enough reasons to come out on the street this Saturday for the Raise the Roof demonstration, that show of contempt for the people who are suffering as a result of the failure of this and the previous Government to deal with a crisis that is causing so much trauma, hardship and suffering for tens of thousands of families should give them a reason now. They should get out on the streets because, frankly, people are fed up, sick and tired of the spoof, dishonesty and denial from the Government. I urge them in the strongest terms to get out on the streets this Saturday in their thousands and, it is be hoped, tens of thousands, assemble at Parnell Square and march to this building to frighten the living daylights out of a Government that does not seem to understand the pain and suffering its policy failures are inflicting. It is an insult for the Government to deny there is a housing emergency.

Nearly 11,000 families, including 3,000 children, are in homeless accommodation. Rents have gone up another 14% in the past year. Record house prices mean the vast majority of young and working people can never dream of owning their own home. There is no protection for tenants against unfair and unjustified evictions. There are 122,000 families on various housing waiting lists. In many cases, they are waiting up to 20 years for homes. The Government has said we do not have any solutions, but the solution is staring it in the face. There are 166,000 empty homes in the country. Very often they are in the hands of vulture funds, investors and speculators who make more money the worse the housing crisis gets. That is the essence of this crisis.

I have mentioned St. Helen's Court in Dún Laoghaire many times. It comprises 17 apartments and the landlord is trying to bully and intimidate the remaining tenants until they leave. Such developers are making money every day the housing crisis gets worse because their property becomes more valuable. They know that and are allowed to act in that way.

Let us consider the response of the Government to that. In my area, there are 4,226 people on the housing, HAP and RAS transfer lists. Another 2,825 people will join those lists during the period of Housing for All. Over the next five years, 7,051 people alone will need council housing. However, the Government is planning to build 2,318 units. There will be more people on housing lists in Dún Laoghaire at the end Housing for All than there is now. There will be more suffering, people homeless and trauma and neglect for families and children.

I do not have the time to read most of a letter to the Minister, who has just walked out, but I will read a bit of it. He will receive it shortly. The letter states:

We are being evicted. I am 55 years living in my home. My parents are living in it since 1958. They are since deceased. I was led to believe all my life we were safe as long as we were lifelong tenants. When we were in a position to buy our home we were told it was not for sale. The woman that is now selling it does not even know me or my family. I need your help because we cannot fix this situation and we are running out of time. So when you are at home this Christmas sitting having your Christmas dinner and sitting back enjoying your family please have a picture of my family sitting in our car at the side of the road having no Christmas because we do not have a home. My darling beloved husband will be put into an early grave as he is a broken man, dad and husband.

That is what we are putting people through, and this Government shows nothing but contempt for them.

8:50 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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The Government says there is no housing emergency. What world is it living in? In this country, figures today show that rents have risen by 14% in the past 12 months, the largest increase ever recorded by daft.ie. We know the average rent is 120% higher than in 2011. There are 11,000 people homeless, more than 3,000 of whom are children. There are 166,000 properties sitting vacant, 50,000 of which have been vacant for at least six years. The crisis is an absolute catastrophe for ordinary people in this country, except those for whom it is an opportunity. They are not ordinary people, but rather developers, landlords and those sitting on properties who are making massive profits.

Responsibility for the housing crisis, emergency and catastrophe does not lie with people who are fleeing war and persecution. Rather, it lies with developers who are, in many cases, sitting on vacant land and the big corporate landlords who are hiking rent as much as they can. It lies with all of those who are acting to maximise their profits. It lies with the Government that presides over a system which encourages all of that.

I am sure some of those big landlords and developers are delighted to see some protests targeting refugees and saying they are responsible for the crisis because that takes attention away from them. It is divide and rule, the oldest tactic in the book. Instead, we need to unite ordinary people, regardless of their colour or where they come from, come together and fight for homes for all, bring rents down, use vacant properties and build public homes. That is why we should be on the streets this Saturday at 1 p.m. at Parnell Square.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Rents are up 14% in the three months to September compared to last year, the highest increase ever recorded in the State. Average rents are €1,700. Apartment building is down 29% and housing builds are down 23% in the three months to the end of October. There are 11,000 people living in emergency accommodation. Tens of thousands more are homeless, couch surfing, etc., and are not counted in those figures. How many more will be counted this Friday?

The record of the Minister and the Government is a disaster. People need to get out on the streets on Saturday to raise the roof and protest, and the Minister and Government have to go. Cork is a black spot for teacher shortages, as are Dublin, Galway, Wicklow and Kildare. Some 91% of secondary school principals and deputy principals recently surveyed by unions said they experienced difficulties hiring qualified teachers in the past six months There are several reasons for this. The lack of graduates in certain subjects is a factor, but the major factor is the housing crisis. What chance does a teacher on a contract of indefinite duration have of renting a property anywhere near a school in a big city? The ASTI, INTO, TUI, Irish Federation of University Teachers and the SIPTU education branch have all joined with Fórsa in calling on teachers to join the protest on Saturday. We are losing teachers and housing policy is a major part of that.

Last weekend, the Tánaiste told his Ard-Fheis that the private sector is not investing in housing because it is "not viable". In other words, there is not enough profit in it. The Taoiseach said the State is now the main actor in housing. It needs to be the main actor in housing, but it is not. That is not true, and thejournal.iesaid as much. Its fact check today found that as the State builds home directly, it invests less money than the private sector and has delivered less social housing than the private sector has delivered in terms of private homes in 2021 and so far this year. The Taoiseach's repeated claim, therefore, that the State is the biggest player in housing has no basis in fact. How embarrassing.

The State needs to be the biggest player in housing. The market has failed. We need housing, but not for profit. The Government and market failure in housing have to go. I hope thousands join the demonstration on Saturday.

9:00 pm

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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At the Ard-Fheis at the weekend, An Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, pledged to make home ownership affordable again. However, an entire generation of people are locked out of secure and affordable homes. The median selling price for a house in Ireland during quarter 3 stood at €301,000, that is €26,000 up on the same period last year. That is only going to rise due to the impact of inflation and higher interest rates. The promise of social and affordable homes for purchase or rent aims to eliminate homelessness and address waiting lists through the housing for all scheme yet homelessness is at a record level with child homelessness up by 51% since April 2021. On top of this people are queuing down the street for a room. People are being priced out of buying a home and nearly half of people's wage are being paid in rent. The number of people being made homeless is unreal. Waiting lists for social housing are too long and eligibility thresholds remain too low.

I acknowledge that the Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, announced an increase in the threshold for social housing by €5,000 from next January. That will mean many more people across the country will qualify for social housing. However, what about those homeless his winter and Christmas? Not a day passes without someone coming into my constituency office who is in that situation. It could be due to a husband and wife separating or someone in the home who has an addiction and their parents cannot put up with them any more. In Louth 68% of homeless adults in emergency accommodation are long-term homeless. I commend the homelessness section in Louth County Council. We ring it nearly every day and in fairness the staff do their best. Many of the homeless people who come into my office have an addiction problem. Emergency accommodation is a good place to go but most of them refuse to go there because they maintain that drugs are available there. This is something we must examine given the amount of money the Government is spending on emergency accommodation.

Similarly within social housing complexes we must examine antisocial behaviour to ensure safety of families and children. Local authority tenants in a Dundalk town centre apartment complex say they are going through a living hell with issues such as persistent drug-taking in the corridors, rough sleeping, vandalism, regular violence, sexual activity in public spaces and even faeces in the lifts and corridors. If there is a problem with drugs in them then we will have to examine it seriously. There is a severe housing shortage, spiralling rental costs and in Louth alone rents have gone up by 8%. This is hitting everybody and all walks of life.

Currently there are about 30 unoccupied council houses in Dundalk. I appreciate the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage pays €11,000 per house to local authorities to get these houses back on the market. It take between six and seven months, if not longer, to get this done. According to a recent report by the National Oversight and Audit Commission, NOAC, the average time that it takes for Louth County Council to re-let a house is 42 weeks from when it is vacated to when a new tenant moves in, while the average cost of doing up a property for re-letting in 2021 was €17,856.

Louth is not alone in experiencing longer times and rising costs for property re-lets. Given the current crisis it is not good enough that any house would be left void for any period of time. Two weeks ago I offered a solution to the housing in Dundalk. A local developer has planning permission for more than 500 houses and is willing to put up between 150 and 200 modular homes. I invited the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien, to come to my home town of Dundalk to visit the site and the factory that manufactures modular homes which is about ten miles from Dundalk. In fairness to the Minister and his Department we have spoken several times in the past few weeks and in the next day or so I will receive a date from the Minister on which he will meet the developer and the manufacturer of these modular homes. This is definitely a step in the right direction.

At the moment people only talk about modular homes for Ukrainians. However, modular homes are shovel-ready, electricity, sewers and gas infrastructure is ready and there are schools, shops and everything else in the vicinity. These are three- and four-bedroom, fully fitted family homes for people who could be on the waiting list of Louth County Council for as long as ten years. People come into my constituency office daily. They would be delighted to have a roof over their heads. They do not want to rear their children in apartments. They want them to have a normal life in a safe environment.

We have to facilitate all construction types. Modular homes take between four and five weeks to put together. The company is willing to put a team together to facilitate these 150 to 200 homes. If we get the first projects off the ground people will develop more confidence in this form of housing. As homelessness is at record highs at the moment this would be a win-win for all. As home ownership declines and no further homes are available to buy it is important we do this. The current cost to rent a property in Dundalk and the Louth area is €1,420 and that is the cheapest. The scale of the housing needs is such that we have to make progress on planning permissions and on housing projects that are well designed. I submitted a priority question recently regarding planning permission in rural Ireland. Daily I meet constituents who are being rejected left, right and centre, sometimes for very vague reasons. I do not understand this. There have been too many objections over recent years and these objections do not match the crisis. Everybody needs a change of mindset in view of the enormous challenges facing us in housing. While the Government's ten-year housing plan may bring relief in the long-term more immediate action is needed to relieve the burden on renters. Many people pay more in rent than they would if they had a mortgage.

Many students are at breaking point amid the accommodation crisis. It is forcing some students out of third-level education or to go abroad. Recently the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, co-ordinated a students' walk-out in protest at the lack of accommodation for those attending further education. The Government must listen to these students. The market has failed to deliver accommodation for those renting and seeking to attend college. The resulting hardship and financial burden placed upon young people in Ireland merely to obtain an education will cost this Government in the long run. The Government needs to act now because if nothing is done we will lose our emerging talent to overseas countries that offer significant incentives and a better standard of life.

It should be acknowledged that the Government is committing €8 billion to the national retrofit programme which will make houses warmer, reduce energy bills and bring down emissions in line with our climate targets. I have had many inquiries from constituents about waiting times and decision timeframes. There are currently more than 9,000 homes awaiting works under the better energy warmer homes scheme, BEWHS, with a wait time of 27 months. That wait time is shocking. I ask the Government to consider the immediate approval of allocations received under the national retrofitting scheme. Retrofitting both public and private dwellings is a central part of the EU climate plan. Falling behind is simply not an option. We need to help the people now by providing greater investment in retrofitting houses as a matter of urgency. The fact that so many homeowners have already applied to upgrade their homes should be welcomed but external factors such as inflation and supply chain constraints are proving problematic. It is crucial that we iron out these issues as much as possible in the short term in order to meet our ambitious target of 500,000 home energy upgrades by 2030. The Government should ensure the grant scheme can meet the demands and reflect the increase in construction cost in order to meet our target for emissions reduction. The upper limit grant should reflect the increase in the cost of construction. If we are to tackle this issue we need to take a much more direct route.

I raise also a concern that current and new housing developments in my constituency of Louth and east Meath are still installing gas lines instead of heat pumps. These new developments are going to cost us in the coming years as they will have to be replaced. The Government must look at long-term cost and implement regulations now.

We all agree that housing is the biggest issue facing us coming into the Christmas period. There is a housing emergency. Nobody wants to be homeless at Christmas. Nobody wants their child on the streets at Christmas. We need to do more. I have today offered a solution. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, and his Department will follow up on their promise to come to my home town and meet the developers and the modular houses manufacturers.

What I ask is that instead of us all playing political football, that all of us in this House work together.

To reiterate a few points I made earlier, people are being priced out of buying a home; nearly half of their wages are being paid in rent. They are paying more in rent than they would pay on a mortgage. That is an absolute disgrace. There is too much red tape to go through for people who are homeless. People who come to my constituency office being made homeless say they cannot get on the council housing list nor HAP because they need to have an address and utility bills. Also there is a serious situation in emergency accommodation regarding the drug situation. I plead with the Minister to meet with the local authorities and the HSE. This is a very serious issue. Young people of 18, 19 and 20 years of age come to my office who are addicts and who want to get help for themselves.

However, by going into emergency accommodation, it is going to get worse and worse. The situation is serious. I plead with the Minister of State. As I said, if we all work together, we have a chance of getting this crisis sorted out.

9:10 pm

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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We move to the Rural Independent Group. I call Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, who is sharing time with colleagues.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I am glad to get the opportunity to speak. I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this very important motion. Every week, we seem to have a debate about housing. I am beginning to worry that the debate is mainly about the capital city or the largest cities. Places like Kerry, in particular rural Kerry, seem to be left behind as far as social housing is concerned. There are 171 vacant houses in County Kerry and in Killarney alone there are over 30. There are people who have been on the housing waiting list for 14, 15 or 16 years, which is not satisfactory. The Department is demanding that €70,000 be spent on some of the houses and that they must be retrofitted, yet the Department will only allocate €11,000 for this. If the house has been a void in the past six years and got money before, no funding will be given to it.

The five-year extension for planning was dropped because the Government wanted to force people in Dublin to build big developments of houses, but people with permissions for one-off houses in Kerry lost that five-year extension. Many of them came through the virus and found it tough to get money together to build a house, and they now have to go through the planning system again.

The Government is trying to prevent short-term lets or force owners to rent long term but they will not because they want to have control of their houses, and they are entitled to that. The Government will not get one extra house out of that.

People cannot find places to rent in Killarney. They are paying anything from €1,100 to €1,300 or €1,500 a month and they cannot find a place.

We hear talk from the Government about building modular houses. Will it build them for our own people? The Government is talking about refugees but will it build them for our own people?

Photo of Richard O'DonoghueRichard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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How can we build houses? For houses, we need infrastructure, and infrastructure is water and sewerage systems. We can see across the whole country that Irish Water has taken over the services but there are no adequate sewerage or water systems in County Limerick. Irish Water went around to different areas and said it was going to upgrade the existing sewerage systems, but it was not going to allow for any extra capacity in the towns and villages around Ireland, including County Limerick.

We look at people who want to build a one-off house, who are paying thousands of euro - so much per square foot - to build a house in their own area, putting in their own sewerage systems and their own water systems, and the Government stopped that and made it unaffordable for them to do it. On the one hand, people want to build a house but the Government will not let them because it prices them out of the market and, on the other, people who want to move into towns and villages cannot do so because there are no sewerage and water systems. Millions of euro are being spent up here in Dublin and it is bursting at the seams. People cannot get into or out of Dublin, yet the Government is looking at more and more investment in Dublin. I ask the Government to shove it out into the counties and to put in investment. Do we have to take it out of the hands of the Government and Irish Water to give us infrastructure in Limerick? Do we have to take it away from them and get investors to come in to make an investment in our county? We need investors who want to see the people of County Limerick housed. Do we have to do that? All the Government is doing is putting up walls to stop us from doing it.

The Land Development Agency has not built one house in Limerick, with all the promises it made, and it was only building houses in the city. The city of Limerick promotes the county, and the county of Limerick promotes the city, if the Government puts in the infrastructure for both, but it has done nothing. Why? It is because the Government does not understand what it is doing. All it understands is letting the Departments block people at every avenue when they try to help, and it tries to make out that everything is its own idea. That is the problem. Go to people who know what they are talking about and let people invest and get their counties up and running.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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As we speak, almost all emergency homeless accommodation in the State is full or under major pressure. The demands placed on the entire housing system from accommodating Ukrainians and the record numbers seeking asylum in Ireland, on top of housing policies that are simply not working, are creating this nightmare situation for so many people. Like many other Deputies, I am inundated with people looking for somewhere to call home. Every weekend, I hold clinics all over west Cork and nearly 70% of people are there to see if I can help them to get a home. There are people from all walks of life, including people on low incomes and on social welfare who qualify for HAP, but still there are no houses available for people who have full-time jobs but just cannot afford a mortgage. They have no hope of ever getting a mortgage but they cannot qualify for HAP as their so-called income is too high.

We then have other people who are living in a toxic environment but who cannot leave their family home as there is nowhere to go. There is somewhere available for 12 weeks but what happens after the 12 weeks are up? They still have nowhere to go and some end up going back to the toxic environment they were first in.

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has consistently claimed that Ireland does not have a housing emergency. He should try telling that to any one of our 11,000 homeless people or the 130,000 people who are left to languish on social housing waiting lists. The simple reality is that his policies are failing the public and his assertion that an emergency does not exist is completely disconnected from reality. The Government and the Minister have made much noise about the fact their Housing for All plan provides for an annual €4 billion budget.

I appreciate Sinn Féin bringing forward the motion. I need to use my remaining time to raise the issue of planning in rural Ireland. We need solutions. What we have has created problems even with regard to planning on islands. I was talking to a gentleman from an island during the week. He had a family member who spent €10,000 trying to get planning and in making sure every report was carried out. At the last minute, it was turned down because there was a bit of heather on the ground, apparently. It is an astonishing situation if a local person spends that kind of money when that kind of codology is going on in planning.

There are huge problems and the Government has not got it right. The length and breadth of west Cork, there are towns and villages where raw sewage is going into the tide after all these years. The Government is pointing the finger at the poor farmer the whole time when it is the housing situation in this country that is the problem.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin sincerely for bringing this motion before the Dáil. It is very important work. I want to declare an interest in the provision of a lot of different types of accommodation.

I want to speak of the example of the town of Kenmare. People cannot get planning for anything in Kenmare. We have inadequate services there so we cannot build anything now or for the foreseeable future.

We have a situation where a land tax is being levied on people who have land and the Government thinks that is going to solve the housing crisis because it thinks it is going to force people. For example, if a farmer in Killarney town is farming and his land is being used for the purpose of growing grass, and if he has not budged during the last boom or bust, he is not going to go booming or busting now either. We cannot force people to make a change in their life. If a person is structured for farming and if they are using their land for that, we cannot make them. It is the same as coming along and getting the local authority to send out letters to people involved in Airbnb, telling them they must change and rent that accommodation, that flat, that apartment or that extra room in their house long term. They simply will not do it. What the Government is doing is cutting off a further supply of housing. Between the whole Ukrainian issue and the fact people are going to be getting out of short-term lets and not getting into long-term lets, what the Government is actually doing is making the situation a lot worse than it already is.

Everyone seems to say that modular homes are the way to go. I have been speaking to people who know what they are talking about - builders who are building houses every day of the week - and they say it makes no sense to go down the road of modular homes and that this is not a quick-fix solution.

The right thing to do is simply, in the old-fashioned way, to go into fields and build houses and give up the nonsense. If the Government had half the number of reports, surveys and studies, it would still have too many. All it does is talk about this. For God's sake, ten, 20 and 30 years ago we were building houses. All we are doing now is talking about it. That is why there is such a homelessness problem. I thank the people in the housing and homeless housing sections of Kerry County Council who are dealing with that problem every day.

9:20 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Here we go again, wishing the senior Minister was here, while acknowledging the bona fides of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, who is present. It has come to a point where the Green Party must make a decision. What is the homelessness figure at which it will recognise that Government housing policy is utterly failing? The figure for today, while this debate is taking place, is 10,975 people recorded homeless, of whom 3,342 are children. That number is going up. It does not record the homelessness of people surfing on couches or in refuges and so on.

I listened carefully to the Minister's speech and that of the Deputy who was beside him at the time. I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion and allowing us an opportunity to speak on it. The whole gist of the Minister's argument took the form of a to-and-fro with Sinn Féin - I was going to say it was on a schoolboy level but that would be insulting schoolboys - rather than dealing with the issue. Housing for All is housing for some. Rebuilding Ireland was rebuilding it in the name of developers. What we have now is the result of failed policies. In the context of the homeless figures I mentioned, I received an email to tell me that a person has been on the list since January 2010, waiting for a house for more than 12 years. That person will be going into their 13th year on the list in January. The response of the council is simply that, due to the shortage of accommodation, it has no idea when that family will be housed. Ahead of that person who has been waiting 12 years there are 150 to 200 households on the east side and 150 to 200 households on the west side.

We set up a taskforce in Galway city and I welcomed it at the time. However, I have no idea what it is doing other than getting presentations. It was to give an annual report. Perhaps the Minister could confirm tonight whether that urgent taskforce has ever submitted an annual report on the situation in Galway. The Simon Community has been locked out of the market and is continuously telling us the situation is getting worse. Not a single house is available in Galway city under the discretionary scheme or the original HAP scheme. For the Minister then to engage in the to and fro to which I referred is an insult to those who are waiting for housing. It is a failure to acknowledge that it is the policy of this Government and previous Governments that has created this mess by treating homes as a commodity to be bought, sold and traded on the national and international markets.

The second thing the Minister did was to blame objectors. I do not look on people making submissions in respect of housing as objectors. Indeed, in the environmental area, they and the courts have saved us. People are entitled to make submissions. The planning system should be sufficiently robust and resourced to deal with those submissions within a reasonable and adequate period and then issue a decision. When we have the senior Minister, with almost 12,000 people homeless, telling us that is because of the objectors, there is a serious dilemma for the Green Party.

I do not like to go down that route but since 2016 I, along with my colleagues, have repeatedly appealed to successive Ministers to please declare an emergency, acknowledge there is a housing emergency and let us do something about it in terms of public housing on public land rather than the hypocrisy about a mixture of tenure. The in-built snobbery that is going on in the context of housing is disgraceful. Let us have public housing on public land. Let us deal with the waiting list and then extend the income limits so that lots of people can avail of the houses. The Government should be proud to be part of the market, balancing it and bringing down prices. It is an insult to speak about affordable housing. The concept of it is nuts. It bears no relationship to what the average person is earning. We want the declaration of an emergency and the provision of housing on public land.

In Galway, there is a ridiculous situation where a deal is being done with the LDA in respect of the docks, while something else is being done in respect of Ceannt Station and something else again in respect of Sandy Road. There is no overall master plan for the common good that sets out what is necessary in Galway. Such a plan does not exist.

Then we go to HAP, brought in by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. Any of us can make a mistake but there is no acknowledgement by the Labour Parry or Fine Gael that they ever made a mistake with HAP, which became the only game in town. In case there is any misunderstanding in that regard, in an article published in Eolas magazine back in 2017, members of the Department were falling over each other to congratulate themselves on this wonderful scheme, with one stating, "Landlord payments are growing at over €1 million per month while the rent run is increasing by €150,000 per month." They go on to say it is a fantastic scheme. The article states, "The Housing Agency’s Jim Baneham believes that HAP is making a real and positive difference in helping to address Ireland’s social housing challenge." It goes on. Many more names are quoted. I wonder where those people are now and what the two parties that brought in HAP are saying about it now that it is well over €1 billion or whatever the figure is. At this stage, it is Monopoly money. All this while the housing crisis continues to grow.

Then we had the Minister telling us about the help-to-buy scheme and saying that Sinn Féin and other members of the Opposition such as ourselves have failed to appreciate how good the scheme is. It has cost four times the original amount. We are onto the third or fourth report. Mazars tells us, "The scheme promotes demand for new housing in a market where the problems that exist are unequivocally supply constraints." It has cost four times more than was anticipated. Indeed, the Department of Finance failed to make proper projections in respect of the scheme. One third of the people availing of this scheme which the Minister has praised did not need help with their deposit, and so on. It has come to a point where one could despair but those on the streets, in hotels or various bed and breakfasts who have no hope need us to give them hope.

Photo of Violet WynneViolet Wynne (Clare, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Independent Group for affording me time to speak on this important issue. It is the defining issue of our generation. It is the one with which we deal most, by far, in my office. The shambles of a health service is a close second. Under successive Governments involving the parties now in office, housing attainability in my constituency has deteriorated and housing need has skyrocketed.

In speaking about County Clare, I will provide figures for perspective. According to a landmark report by Clare Public Participation Network, PPN, there are 2,847 families on the housing list in the county and, of them, 175 have been on the list for more than seven years. As Deputies are aware, the number of properties accepting HAP is decreasing all the time. The most recent Locked Out of the Market report, published by the Simon Community in September, indicates a year-on-year reduction of 82%. In County Clare, 1,288 households receive HAP. This represents 38% of the total number of private tenants in the county. My constituency is in band 3 of HAP, meaning that a couple with no children, for example, is eligible for just €400, while the average rent in the county is now €1,167. According to the latest quarterly report by Daft.ie, which was published today, rents in Clare are up 9% on this time last year, and rising significantly year on year.

Since the start of the month, Clare County Council has received 54 planning applications. Unfortunately for those applicants, many of whom are young families trying to get on the property ladder, once they get through all the red tape the planning laws are tied up in, they will be paying 5% more for concrete products than they would have paid last year, all thanks to the concrete products levy.

There are 10,281 vacant properties in Clare, of which 4,912 are holiday homes. These properties could be viable homes for families but, instead, they lie idle, and will continue to do so because the Government's vacant homes tax is flimsy and ill thought out. With that context in mind, the Government will tell us there is no need to declare a housing emergency, a position with which I fundamentally disagree. Last month, facing into a brutal winter, there were no emergency beds available in County Clare.

This is a scathing indictment of a failed housing policy.

It is easy to list these problems but what are the solutions? We need to conclude the Housing Commission's work as a matter of priority and put a referendum to the people on the right to housing. We need to abolish no-fault evictions and improve security of tenure. This would establish the private rental sector as viable long-term housing. According to Threshold, nine in ten tenancy terminations are landlord-led and seven in ten are no-fault evictions. According to the Simon Community, the true reality of homelessness is that 290,000 people experience hidden homelessness. We must legislate to ensure the Government numbers reflect this.

In this House, we all know that language is important. It is important this Government declares a housing emergency, end of and full stop.

9:30 pm

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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Before I deliver my closing speech, I will address a couple of points raised. On Deputy Connolly's question regarding the report, the Galway task force will follow that up for her. A couple of Deputies have mentioned an overreliance on HAP. That is something the Government is addressing by trying to reduce that overreliance. On Deputy Wynne's point, the wording for the referendum on housing is being formulated at present. A number of Deputies raised the issue of modular homes during the part of the debate I attended. Some Deputies raised the issue of the housing of refugees as well as general housing issues. We have to address both. There is no doubt about it that these are unprecedented times. We have to help those families who are fleeing such terrible war and persecution. It is critically important we do not try to muddy the picture on that. Those are the main points I took from the part of the debate I sat in on.

Housing for All represents the most ambitious housing plan in the history of the State. This Government is committed to building an average of 33,000 homes per year over the lifetime of the plan. Critically, it returns the State to a central role in the provision of social and affordable housing through the largest ever State-led homebuilding programme. The plan is backed by secured and sustained levels of investment to the tune of more than €4 billion a year, providing the sector with the certainty it needs to deliver on the ambition of Housing for All. Let me be clear, and to reiterate what the Minister said, I do not support the proposed motion in calling for the declaration of a housing emergency. The motion fails to acknowledge the considerable and effective action currently being taken by the Government.

To further stress our position, the action being taken by the Government is working. Supply, which as we all know is key to improving our housing system, is increasing In the 12 months to the end of September, more than 55,000 homes were either commenced - 27,417 - or completed - 27,773. The number of completions in the first three quarters of 2022 was greater than the total for 2021 or any full year since the Central Statistics Office completion series began. This year, we expect to meet, if not exceed, the overall target of 24,600 new homes as we progress towards meeting the annual average target of 33,000 new homes envisaged under Housing for All. Over the 12 months from July 2021 to June 2022, planning permissions were granted for more than 44,000 residential units. These key indicators show real progress has been made as a result of Housing for All.

We are also ensuring the increase in supply is supporting home ownership, one of the four pillars Housing for All is built upon. In May 2021, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage issued guidelines aimed at preventing multiple houses and duplexes being sold to a single buyer. Analysis of these guidelines shows that 16,000 residential units have been ring-fenced for individual buyers, a clear example of this plan working. The motion states the social housing waiting lists are too long, yet in 2021, the summary of social housing assessments showed a decrease of 4.3% in 2020 in households assessed as being qualified for, and in need of, social housing support. Furthermore, there has been a 35.3% decrease in the social housing waiting list since 2016, when the first annual assessment was conducted. The official figures show we are helping more and more of those people who need it most.

The motion also states the social housing income eligibility thresholds are too low. The Minister has recently approved changes to the social housing income eligibility bands in five local authorities: Carlow, Clare, Galway county, Laois and Westmeath, with the baseline income threshold for these areas increasing from €25,000 to €30,000. The motion references the affordability of housing. The Government has worked extremely hard to lay down the right foundations required so we can deliver affordable homes at scale. As committed to under Housing for All, cost rental homes are now beginning to come onto the market, with hundreds of cost rental homes already tenanted. We are further supporting delivery of cost rental homes by increasing the cost rental equity loan from a maximum of 30% to a maximum of 45% per project. The first home scheme, launched in July, will support up to 8,000 affordable home purchases over its lifetime. Since its introduction, more than 800 applications have been received with more than 600 approvals issued. This shows the Government's determination to increase home ownership is more than an empty slogan.

Earlier this year, the enhanced local authority home loan scheme was launched and is aimed at supporting first-time buyers on low or moderate incomes who are unable to secure the mortgage they need from a financial lending institution. Since February 2018, under the previous and current iteration of the loan, more than €471 million has been lent, which has helped some 2,860 households achieve their dream of home ownership. Budget 2023 guaranteed €250 million for lending under the loan. The help to buy scheme has also extended current rates until the end of 2024. The scheme has been a significant support for first-time buyers of new homes. Since the scheme's commencement in 2017, 35,000 people have benefited from help to buy. Through a combination of Exchequer and other funding provisions, €1.3 billion will be available to support the delivery of affordable housing in 2023. All of this shows the Government's commitment to delivering affordable housing for all.

Challenges do exist. The increase in homelessness seen in recent months is a serious concern to the Government. We are doing our utmost to help those at the sharpest edge of the housing crisis. As stated in Housing for All, we are a signatory to the Lisbon declaration, committing to ending homelessness by 2030. An allocation of €215 million will be made available to tackle homelessness in 2023. This will make sure local authorities can provide homeless prevention services and emergency accommodation. It supports the households experiencing homelessness to exit homelessness to tenancies as quickly as possible. The temporary winter eviction ban will protect renters who are facing homelessness this winter. This emergency measure is necessary and provides assistance in the short term. The long-term answer, as the Government has said all along, remains an increase in the sustainable supply of new homes. The Minister has been very clear on an important prevention measure: where a family or individual is at risk of being evicted into homelessness as a result of a landlord selling a home, a local authority will be supported by the Government to purchase the home, should that be appropriate. This, and the winter eviction ban, are proof that when it comes to the extremely pressing issue of preventing and eradicating homelessness, all options will be considered.

Housing for All commits to building 29,000 homes next year, of which 9,000 will be social and more than 5,500 will be affordable. Increasing our housing stock will not only reduce numbers in emergency accommodation but is the answer to relieving the pressure on the private rental market. In addition, funding of €31 million will enable 1,900 void homes to be remediated and brought back into use for allocation to households on social housing waiting lists, further relieving this reliance and pressure, which is an issue that has been raised by Deputies.

Considerable work has already been completed in strengthening protections for renters. The Government has introduced rent increase caps in rent pressure zones, restricted deposit amounts, extended notice periods and introduced tenancies of unlimited duration. As a short-term measure, the Government is introducing a new rent tax credit valued at €500 per year. Some 400,000 people are expected to benefit from this credit. However, and most importantly, to address the private rental sector in the longer term, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will also review the operation of the private rental sector. It will take into account these enhanced protections and the changes in legislation over recent years and will ensure our housing system provides an efficient, affordable, safe and secure framework for both landlords and tenants.

The motion also references student accommodation. In October, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, and his Department, will actively progress a new policy that bridges the challenging gap between the viability of delivering purpose-built student accommodation and subsequent rental affordability for students. This will include, for the first time, the State assisting with the cost of building student accommodation beds and unlocking projects that have been postponed in return for affordable rents for students.

We could go on and there are many policies we could discuss. I will close by reiterating the core point: homes are being built at record rates. It will take time for many of the measures set out in Housing for All and for this additional supply to make the difference needed. There is no overnight fix to the issue we face. The Government remains determined to implement Housing for All fully and has brought forward additional measures in the Housing for All action plan update, which was published on 2 November, prioritising those that will activate and accelerate the delivery of housing supply.

The foundations that have been laid during the first year of Housing for All have set us up for success. We will see the full effect of affordability initiatives as they build and maintain momentum over coming years. We will also see the wide-spread delivery of cost rental, which is a true game changer for the rental market. Most importantly of all, we will continue to implement, review and revise the plan as needed and adapt it to the ever-changing environment in which we are operating in order to solve the housing crisis once and for all. We need the support of all of this House to continue that good work.

9:40 pm

Photo of Patricia RyanPatricia Ryan (Kildare South, Sinn Fein)
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I see the Minister of State got the short straw again this evening. It seems to be a common thread. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is missing every time I talk about housing. The dogs in the street know the Government is presiding over a crisis in housing. Whether we call it an emergency, a crisis, a mess or a disaster, it all adds up to the same thing. In the words of President Higgins when he spoke in Kildare earlier this year, it is the greatest failure. I have met with the county councils in Kildare and Laois on a number of occasions. Kildare County Council appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage this afternoon. In the past, I have been told that the decisions on funding have been slow and that there is a lack of certainty regarding funding schemes. The director of housing in Kildare County Council told the committee today that she was not sure if a scheme to allow the purchase of houses with HAP in situ will continue into next year. This is simply not good enough.

Behind all the statistics are real people who are suffering because of the failure of successive Governments to work in favour of ordinary workers and families instead of vulture funds and vested interests. In the space of a couple of hours last Friday, three women contacted my office in tears because their prospect of having a safe, secure and decent-quality roof over their heads is a faraway dream. One of the ladies is living in a small attic space with her husband and child. Another has not seen her children for five weeks because they stay with her ex-partner and she has nowhere to live. She has lived in Ireland for over two decades but had to return to her parents' home in Great Britain as an alternative to sleeping rough. The last lady who called is living in a substandard rented home, her husband is seriously ill and the conditions in the accommodation are making his illness worse. This is what we are dealing with day in, day out. Three women at breaking point in extremely stressful situations contacted me within three hours. Their mental health is suffering greatly. This Government must look beyond the numbers and focus on people. The people in the eye of the storm know that this is an emergency. It is time for the Government to wake up and put a credible plan in place to alleviate the suffering.

Homes should be built for need, not for greed. We in Sinn Féin are at the coalface and know how bad things are. We have solutions. In government, we will deliver 20,000 public homes to meet social and affordable housing needs.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, said that people feel they are living in a housing emergency. If you are in emergency accommodation with your children, you do not feel you are living in a housing emergency; you are in a housing emergency. That is the fact. The Minister of State came in here and opposed our motion because we did not acknowledge what the Government is doing. This is what we will acknowledge. This Minister and this Government have been in place for two and a half years. The Minister spoke earlier about the facts and the reality. The reality is that under his watch, we have the highest rents in the State, the highest house prices in the history of the State, the highest homelessness figures, the highest number of people living at home and the longest social housing waiting list. These are the facts. Is the Minister living in any reality? I will be honest. I have no confidence in this Minister or the Government. Shame on the Green Party for keeping them in there. I know members of the Green Party who really care about the issues ordinary people face and who do not believe the Green Party is doing the right thing.

The definition of emergency is a serious, unexpected and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action. Well a housing emergency requires immediate action. During the last financial crash when I was in Cork City Council, members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael said the 300,000 young people who were emigrating would be back. A lot of them never came back. The young people who are now leaving might not come back either and that is on the Government's watch. What the Government is doing is a shame and a disgrace and this Minister should go

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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I repeat the comments of Deputy Patricia Ryan. We are disappointed the Minister did not stay for the entire debate. This is a profound emergency across the State and the Minister who is responsible to this Oireachtas for housing did not stay more than half an hour so he was not here to listen to Members for an hour and a half. I appreciate the Minister of State being here and perhaps he can convey what I am about to say directly to the Minister when he speaks to him.

It is about the emergency in Donegal, the west of Ireland and possibly 13 or 14 counties caused by defective blocks. A major conference was held in Donegal last week attended by experts from Canada, the US, Norway, Switzerland and the UK who examined the laboratory tests of blocks from Donegal and diagnosed what is really happening. It is their expert opinion that pyrrhotite, which is an iron sulfide, is the actual cause of what is happening even though European regulations have been in place for about 20 years and the damage iron sulfides can do if they are not regulated properly in quarries is known internationally. This crisis and the responsibility of the Government and the State for it are worse that we understood originally. It is getting worse.

I ask the Minister of State to discuss what I am about to discuss with the Minister tomorrow. This State needs to ensure the testing of foundations. In the state of Connecticut in the US, pyrrhotite in foundations has led to a major initiative where the foundations of hundreds of homes had to be removed. We need to test the foundations of homes now. That is the clear scientific advice from these experts. The Government has put in place a scheme that does not provide for the testing of foundations, which is incredible, even when there was testimony and evidence presented at the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage as part of the legislation passed earlier this year. Even then, it still has not been agreed to. The Government is potentially wasting millions of euro of taxpayers' money where it could be asking people to rebuild their homes on foundations that are not stable. If in doubt, test the foundations. That is the clear advice of these experts and I am appealing for this to happen.

Dr. Andreas Leemann, an internationally renowned expert from Switzerland, visited the home of Sharon Moss, which is one of the affected homes in Donegal. I have been in that house too. You would not ask any human being or animal to live in a house such as this. There is black mould on all of the internal walls that interact with the external walls all around the house. After 20 minutes, Dr. Leemann said he was coughing and we expect human beings to live there. Animals should not be living in a house like this never mind human beings. This family is stuck. It cannot get financial assistance to relocate.

This brings me to my next point. I am begging the Minister of State. For God's sake, how can we allow dozens of families to live in homes that are not fit for human habitation? How many weeks do I have to come into this Chamber and beg Ministers to intervene and to get the Housing Agency and Donegal County Council to meet these families and get them out now?

Why is the Government forcing families to live in houses with black mould strangling them and their kids? Why is the Government doing this? Why is it asking families to live where masonry could fall on top of them at any minute? It is only the mercy of God that it has not happened already.

This is an emergency now in Ireland. It is an earthquake happening in slow motion. I beg the Government to undertake an initiative to get these families out of these homes. Will it take us being shamed? International experts toured these houses last week. They appeared on RTÉ and said this was the worst example they have seen in the world. The US, Canada, Norway, Switzerland and the UK, all these countries, have experienced this problem, but the worst experience is here. Will the Government please get this sorted? Whatever about the wider housing emergency, will the Government intervene as soon as possible here, talk to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and get this sorted out?

Amendment put.

9:50 pm

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is deferred until the weekly division time tomorrow evening.