Dáil debates

Tuesday, 24 January 2023

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

4:00 pm

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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1. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [58944/22]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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2. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [59157/22]

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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3. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [60875/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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4. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [60885/22]

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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5. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [60893/22]

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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6. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [60894/22]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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7. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [60901/22]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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8. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [61331/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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9. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [61334/22]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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10. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of Housing for All. [61816/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [1182/23]

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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12. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [1567/23]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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13. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [3278/23]

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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14. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet [3345/23]

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, together.

The housing and infrastructure unit assists me and the Government to meet our housing and infrastructure policy objectives. This includes providing a secretariat to the Cabinet committee on housing, which oversees the delivery of Housing for All, along with wider public investment through Project Ireland 2040, which falls under the Cabinet committee on the economy and investment, which is chaired by the Tánaiste. The unit also provides updates, briefing and speech material on relevant policy issues.

The Cabinet committee on housing met eight times in 2022. The last meeting took place on Monday, 21 November. The next meeting of the Cabinet committee on housing is scheduled for next Monday. This committee works to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the implementation of Housing for All across government and the implementation of programme for Government commitments regarding housing and related matters.

Housing for All is the most ambitious housing plan in the history of our State and contains actions to ensure more than 300,000 new homes are built by the end of the decade, along with delivering a fundamental reform of our housing system. The plan is showing real progress. Almost 28,000 new homes were completed in the 12 months to the end of September, the highest rolling 12-month total of any period since comparable data were first published in 2011. We are building more new homes than at any point in more than ten years, and that does not include student accommodation or derelict homes being brought back into use. We expect to see data in the next few weeks that will confirm we exceeded our overall target of 24,600 new homes in 2022. The target for 2023 is 29,000 new homes, and I want us to exceed that as well.

For renters, we are making cost rental a reality. We have legislated to cap rent increases and enhanced security for tenants through deferring no-fault terminations until April. We have also introduced a rent tax credit and we encourage renters to avail of that, given it is now possible to apply for it online. We are also reforming the planning system and promoting the use of innovation, rapid builds and modern methods of construction. Other significant initiatives under Housing for All include the first home scheme, Project Tosaigh and the residential zoned land tax.

We will continue to prioritise the building of new homes, taking further action as it is needed and listening to what those involved in the sector are telling us.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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There are nine contributors, so it is up to one minute each.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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In the 2022 census, 166,000 homes were recorded as vacant, and these did not include holiday homes or those that were temporarily vacant for other reasons. To have so many vacant homes in a time of crisis is shocking. It is similar to having food available in a time of famine. A vacant homes tax was detailed in the most recent budget and was to be levied at 0.3% of the value of the home, which is tiny compared with the increase in the values of homes at the moment, but Revenue indicated it was going to levy it on only about 4,000 homes, with a benefit to the Exchequer of about €4 million. Surely that is outrageous. How many empty homes will have this tax levied against them and how much will it bring in? How many Croí Cónaithe grants have been drawn down to get vacant homes back into use?

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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I again raise the redress scheme for homes with Celtic tiger-era building defects that was announced last week. As my party colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, has acknowledged, the announcement is a step in the right direction but we, like the homeowners affected, would like the Taoiseach to clarify some aspects of the scheme as proposed. The legislation will not be completed, we are told, until the end of this year and the scheme will not open for applications until some time next year. Will he explain this delay and tell us why this matter cannot be expedited? Does the scheme provide for 100% redress for all applicants and will it be applied retrospectively? How far back will it go and will it apply to apartments, duplexes and houses impacted by structural defects? Will the Government make funding available for interim emergency fire safety works for those developments at greatest risk?

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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The housing crisis, as we know, continues to worsen and Mike Allen warned on “News at One” of the growing shortage of accommodation. Last week, Threshold warned that the majority of tenants it had helped towards the end of 2022 were at risk of homelessness due to the landlord selling their property. When the eviction ban was being introduced, I repeatedly raised with the Government the urgent need to ramp up the tenant in situscheme to secure people's homes and prevent homelessness. As there is likely to be a flood of evictions after the ban ends in April, now is the time when the Government should act. We ask that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage publish monthly figures, for the duration of the eviction ban, from local authorities on how many tenant in situschemes they have been able to complete or how many are being processed. We have asked this previously and the Minister has failed to provide this information. There is a massive underspend in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage of almost €1 billion and we know the target of 8,000 social homes in 2022 will not be met.

Will the Taoiseach publish monthly figures on the tenant in situscheme? Has he yet been briefed on how many social homes were built last year, and will the targets be met?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I want to see a constitutional referendum on the right to housing, not because it will resolve the housing crisis, which it will not do, and not because it is a substitute for our housing campaigns or housing protest, which it is not. I want to see it because it would improve, at least somewhat, the rights of those who need housing and add, at least somewhat, to pressure on the State to deliver it. We are hearing reports that the Housing Commission is due to report relatively soon with a recommendation on this matter. Will the Taoiseach give this House an update on the estimated time of arrival, so to speak, for that recommendation? Will he also outline his thinking, as Taoiseach, on whether a referendum might be a good choice to make in our current situation?

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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It was good to hear the Taoiseach outline the details of one of the strongest public housing programmes in decades and I look forward to getting those final details for last year. One of the other commitments in Housing for All is to having a better fit of existing stock for those people who need it, including through reviewing the housing aid for older people grant, which many councillors work with their constituents to deliver as part of the local authority system, allowing them to make changes to bathrooms and accessibility mechanisms in their homes. Unfortunately, because of the rise in construction costs, it is getting more difficult to get the same value from those grants. Incomes have increased and I hope that in the same way that we have increased income thresholds for social housing, we might be able to do the same for housing aids. The Department has carried out a review and I hope a statutory instrument will be available soon. I have been putting pressure on the Minister in that regard. Will the Taoiseach confirm that there will be an increase in those grants?

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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In the middle of a housing crisis, I am seeing refusals of planning permission for once-off housing developments because the services are not there. I am talking specifically about water. There is a direct knock-on impact because Carlow’s water treatment plants need to be upgraded, whether in Tinryland, Ardattin, Ballinabranagh and Bagenalstown. These plants are working at 100% capacity, and although funding has been promised again and again, we still have not got it. What is the update from Irish Water?

I also have an issue with funding for vacant buildings. Between 2018 and 2022, planning exemptions allowed some developers to take on vacant buildings in Carlow and put them forward for beneficial housing schemes. There is a great example in Tullow, where a former hotel, which has been derelict for more than 20 years, has applied for the repair and leasing scheme, RLS, to develop 100 units in the town centre. The local authority, however, is issuing compulsory purchase orders, caught up in red tape, to develop this high-profile unit in an historic part of the town centre.

It has taken two years with all the red tape and I ask the Taoiseach to look at it.

4:10 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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Can the Taoiseach explain why almost €1 billion allocated to the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in 2022 was not spent? What does he have to say to the thousands of people who are paying unaffordable and exorbitant rents, the hundreds and thousands of people who are in their 20s and 30s and still living in their childhood bedrooms, those who cannot afford to buy a home and the 11,500 people who are homeless and living in emergency accommodation about the Government's failure to spend this €1 billion? How can he justify it?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The figure of 11,500 people who are currently homeless is going to continue to swell unless the Government takes urgent emergency measures to stop the flow into homelessness. The major reason the vast majority of those people are homeless is because they have been evicted; the vast majority of whom have done absolutely nothing wrong. Next Friday week, I will be going into court with a family, that is, people who have worked, paid their taxes all their lives and have not done a single thing wrong. Even during a supposed ban on evictions, they are facing an enforcement order to throw them out of their home where they have lived all their lives. As they are over the threshold for social housing support they are not even entitled to housing assistance payment, HAP. What will the Government do to stop the flow of families and individuals into homelessness? I propose it has to impose a complete eviction ban and buy up the homes, regardless of where they are in terms of income, of those people who are threatened with homelessness.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Victims of apartment and duplex defects were very happy last week to hear the Government announce that there will be a redress scheme and it will be retrospective but they also know from the experience of the mica homeowners who had 100% schemes supposedly announced for them over a year ago and are still waiting, in reality the small print means it is significantly less than 100%. They understand the devil will be in the detail and at the moment we have very little detail from the Government. When will the detail of this scheme be announced? When will emergency funding be announced because clearly this is a safety issue for a number of homeowners. We need immediate action. They cannot wait for a year or longer. Will the Government meet the insurance industry to ensure people are able to get their blocks insured while they are waiting for this scheme to start? Will non-fire but latent defects such as defective balconies be included, and will houses built at the same time in the same developments by the same developers affected by the same issues, such as balconies, also be included? Finally, will the Minister meet representatives of the Not Our Fault campaign to understand how this is going to work?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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It is a long time since I have done this and I had forgotten what it was like. I have done my best to write down as many questions as I can. I definitely cannot write as quickly as people can talk but will do my best to answer the questions. In relation to Deputy Tóibín's question on the 166,000 vacant homes, I am not sure it is published yet but it is worth taking a look at the Department's report, which is the derelict homes action plan. It might be published or may not be. It gives a very interesting breakdown as to why those 166,000 homes are vacant and in a huge number of cases, it is for a reason, in that they are to let or for sale; they are being renovated; the person who lives there is in hospital or in a nursing home; they are recently deceased and the home is in probate. Actually, the real number of homes that are habitable and could be available for use is much lower than that.

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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How much?

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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I cannot remember the exact figure but a fraction of that-----

Photo of Peadar TóibínPeadar Tóibín (Meath West, Aontú)
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It is an important figure.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----and it shows as well that vacancy rates in Ireland are falling compared with the last time the survey was done and are in line with European norms. There is huge variability from different parts of the country to others, as the Deputy can imagine. Bear in mind the vacant property tax will only apply to habitable homes. It will not apply to those that are not habitable; they are derelict and are covered under different legislation. What ever the correct number is, there are certainly tens of thousands of derelict properties that could be brought back into use and turned into homes for people, and they should be. We have a lot of very good schemes at the moment such as buy and renew; repair and lease and Croí Cónaithe but at the moment, it looks like those schemes are going to bring hundreds of homes back into use every year and it should be thousands. We have to do everything we can to drive that forward and make sure it happens.

A couple of Members asked about the building defects scheme for apartments and duplexes. I cannot remember the exact dates it applies to, I think it is pre-2013, but that was part of the announcement on the day. We will get the legislation done this year. There will be retrospection. It will be up and running in 2024 at 100% but there will be checks and balances. People will not just be able to claim any amount. There will have to be checks and balances, of course, and there will be funding for interim fire safety. I should, as I have done before, declare personal interest in this in that my apartment, which is the only property I own, is in a building that has building defects and therefore I am a potential beneficiary of this scheme once it is up and running.

On the tenant in situscheme which Deputy Bacik asked about, I very much agree that local authorities should purchase homes from landlords who are selling up where the tenant is a social housing tenant. That is done. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is very much behind that. We are encouraging local authorities to do exactly that. I am not sure if we will be able to do monthly figures but perhaps we can do quarterly figures or something along those lines.

On the issue of income thresholds for housing aids that Deputy McAuliffe raised, he makes some very valid points in that regard. As we all know, the cost of getting work done to one's house has gone up a lot and people's incomes have gone up as well. It makes sense to review both the income limits and the amounts people can get. I do not know what the outcome of that review is yet but I imagine the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, will make an announcement or bring a proposal to Government as soon as he can.

I met representatives from the Housing Commission a few weeks ago. It is nearing completion on its work on a proposed wording for an amendment on the right to housing for our Constitution. I do not know what that is yet and have not seen it. I look forward to receiving that report and once we have that and the proposed wording, the next step will be to consult with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage to see what it thinks of the proposed wording. It is a programme for Government commitment to have a referendum on housing and it is a commitment we intend to honour. It is important we get the wording right because whether you are for or against it, anything put in the Constitution transfers at least a degree of power and decision-making from this place, our elected Parliament, to the courts, whose members are not elected, as we know, but have their role to play. We have to make sure we get the wording right and that there are no unintended consequences. I look forward to seeing that report and it will be very welcome.

On Deputy Murnane O'Connor's question, I fully agree that we need to invest in water and wastewater services. As the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, said earlier, there is over €6 billion now in the budget for Irish Water but it has to prioritise and will generally prioritise infrastructure where it is going to provide water services for a site that can perhaps accommodate hundreds of people, important social infrastructure and important economic infrastructure as well.

On the €1 billion figure mentioned by Deputy Cian O'Callaghan, I am not sure that is correct. I think that by the end of the year, that figure was much lower. I cannot remember what it was but it was considerably lower. A decision was made to reallocate the funding from one part of housing to another part but it was spent on housing. When it comes to dealing with the housing crisis, I can assure the House there is no lack of money available to do what needs to be done. There is certainly no lack of political will and no lack of care or compassion on the part of the Government but there are constraints. There is currently a shortage of labour and we are trying to build and renovate new houses, repair old homes and apartments, and build transport and commercial infrastructure. There is just a shortage of labour at the moment. Materials are more expensive and not always available and there are delays around planning permission and servicing sites. There are real constraints which this Government and any Government would face, unfortunately, when it comes to turning the tide on the housing crises which is our objective.

Finally, Deputy Boyd Barrett asked about the eviction pause and that is in place until the end of April. We will have a better idea between now and then as to whether it has been effective in terms of reducing the number of people who are in emergency accommodation and the number of people flowing into homelessness. I am not sure what the Deputy means by a complete eviction ban and if we-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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People are being evicted at the moment.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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Yes, but-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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They have done nothing wrong.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----people are being evicted because they have not paid their rent-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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No.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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-----or because they have been engaged in antisocial behaviour-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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No.

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
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----and I think allowing people to-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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There are people being evicted on grounds of sale at the moment, who have done nothing wrong.