Tuesday, 8 October 2019
Budget 2020: Statements
Senator Boyhan mentioned the inadequacy of the Government's response to the housing crisis over its period of office, of which this is the fourth budget. Some of the figures in the budget are aggregates, which are great to have, but what do they actually mean? I note that €1.1 billion is being allocated to deliver 11,000 social housing units this year. Unless my maths skills are collapsing, I believe that works out at a contribution of €100,000 per unit of social housing. What is happening here? Are we actually producing social housing at the rate of €100,000 per house? The budget also states that a similar amount will be made available next year.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, which deals with housing from the Custom House, has an immense capacity to interfere with the local authorities' ability to identify and sell sites. It has said that it is giving up that interference, but everything being checked and rechecked and architects dealing with this issue at different levels have been damaging for the provision of housing in the past. Part of the problem is that county chief executives and managers do not have an appetite to purchase social housing. As part of the Thornton Hall development, we sold land in Shanganagh in south County Dublin to private developers and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for housing, and spent €30 million on buying Thornton Hall at a very high price per acre. It was difficult as we had no compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers to buy land for prisons. That was when I was Minister in 2005 or 2006. That land in Shanganagh is still vacant in the hands of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council more than a decade later, which is crackers. Somebody is to blame for that. Somebody in one of the various Departments is responsible for the fact that the Department of Justice and Equality got this money from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and spent it on a prison that has not yet been built. It will eventually be built despite all the mutterings because Mountjoy Prison will eventually be knocked down, but the crucial issue is that the land allocated for social and affordable housing in Shanganagh has been growing nettles ever since. There is something radically wrong here.
Senator Boyhan referred to the proposed Land Development Agency. We now have the heads of a Bill for setting up that up. However, there is not a snowball's chance in hell that legislation will be enacted before this Government goes to the people, unless something dramatic happens or the Government plans to extend the life of the Dáil under the Constitution. If that agency will not have statutory powers to acquire land from local authorities, use CPOs, put sites together, or do something radical about housing, the huge failure of successive Governments to deal with the housing crisis since its height during the Celtic tiger will go unremedied into the life of the next Dáil. That is a very sad situation.