Seanad debates

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Commencement Matters

Social and Affordable Housing

10:30 am

Photo of Trevor Ó ClochartaighTrevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Fein) | Oireachtas source

Go raibh míle maith agat a Leas-Chathaoirligh. Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Táim an-bhuíoch dó as teacht isteach. Táim an-bhuíoch don Chathaoirleach, a roghnaigh an cheist seo. Is ceist iontach práinneach í atá ag teacht chun cinn.

I have been given documentation which suggests a senior management official with Galway City Council was allocated a house by another council official under the affordable housing scheme and that he was not eligible for this. It is claimed the income limit for the scheme was €36,500 and that the income for the position he was known to be in would have been at least double that, which should have deemed him ineligible for the scheme. It is asserted that the official in question has since retired and received a pension lump sum. It is claimed that he already had a primary residence prior to purchasing this house and that this new house is now being rented out.

I am told a number of other senior officials also acquired houses, which are essentially assets of the taxpayer, and they would appear to have profited financially in that the houses have risen dramatically in value, with a significant dividend accruing to them at a cost to the taxpayer. The documentation also indicates that other officials were awarded houses in excess of their need; for example, some were given three-bedroom houses when their need was only justified as a one-bedroom or two-bedroom house. It is alleged that officials were allocating the better houses to their colleagues and that they were getting priority over other people on the waiting lists. If these allegations are true, it is a very serious situation. Questions need to be asked as to how the Minister of State, Deputy English, and the Department will ensure that such irregularities cannot happen. If the Minister of State has any knowledge of the case I have mentioned, I would be interested to know. If so, what does he intend to do about it? I would also like him to clarify whether his Department is aware of similar cases happening in other local authorities.If this is happening, it is grossly unfair to the thousands of people with a legitimate housing need who are being pushed down the waiting lists due to these irregular allocations. I have sought this debate because we need to investigate these serious allegations.

I note, from media reports dating back to May 2014, that an investigation was begun by the former city manager, Joe O'Neill, and was being continued by the current manager, Brendan McGrath. It did not, however, become public until media sources submitted lists of questions to city hall in the previous week regarding the fact that an internal investigation was taking place and that the alleged improper allocation of dwellings involved a number of staff members understood to be in the Galway City Council housing department.

That internal investigation was ongoing at the time and we were told that there was going to be a report issuing soon after. My understanding is that report has not been made available. I do not know whether the public representatives on Galway City Council have seen it. I understand they have not. Has either the Minister of State or the Department been made aware that this investigation was happening? If so, has the report been received. If it has, could the Minister of State furnish us with a copy of that report in order that we might see what were the findings? In a time of huge crisis in housing, when people are under massive pressure on very long housing lists, to even think that officials within a housing department were allocating and cherry-picking houses that were available to the local authority beggars belief. It would also be extremely serious. I look forward to the Minister of State's response.


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