Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

9:30 am

Photo of John CumminsJohn Cummins (Fine Gael)

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I commend my colleague on tabling the motion. The joint Oireachtas committee had this discussion in November. We had Wayne Stanley, Rosemary Hennigan, Professor Gerry White and Rebecca Keatinge before the committee. They put forward comprehensive testimony on the importance of this and associated matters. In fairness, committee members put forward many questions. Senator Keogan has touched on the term "adequate housing", which I asked about at the committee meeting. What is the definition of "adequate housing"? Is it a one-bedroom apartment for a one-year lease? Is it a three-bedroom house with secure tenure for life? These are issues that will have to be teased out as the debate unfolds. Under the programme for Government, the Government is committed to a commission on housing and a referendum on the right to housing. I look forward to the debate on those in due course.

Housing as a topic is so important. It is probably appropriate that this debate is taking place on the conclusion of 16 and a half hours of committee discussion on the Affordable Housing Bill. Along with some of my colleagues, I had the pleasure of being present for every minute of that debate. Many contributions were put forward and some constructive amendments were taken on board by Government. That goes to show that we do not have every answer and we are always open to constructive engagement with the Opposition. However, it is important in the wider debate to pause and look at what we are trying to achieve with the Bill. We are going to provide housing on council-owned land for local authorities to provide affordable purchase homes to people who live in the area and dependent on various other set criteria. The housing is not, as was suggested by some on the Opposition benches, for a price of €450,000.The misleading statement was made that the Government was trying to pass it off as affordable housing. That is absolutely not the case. Local authority affordable purchase homes will not be in this bracket. If I am correct, the Minister stated on the record they will cost between €160,000 and €310,000 depending on the area of the country.

The Minister is also on record as saying he will provide additional resources through the serviced sites fund, particularly in areas such as Dublin that face challenges with affordability and construction costs, and that the threshold for the €50,000 would be increased to make these homes even more affordable. In addition, the Affordable Housing Bill includes a cost-rental scheme for the first time, building on what is in place in countries throughout Europe. We will link the cost of the rent to the provision, building, finance and maintenance of these homes over a period of 40 years. We are increasing the Part 5 provision of affordable housing from 10% to 20%, to include at least 10% affordable purchase homes in developments. We also have a shared equity scheme, which many on the Opposition benches oppose. This scheme will provide immediate assistance for those people who find an affordability gap between the market price of a unit and the mortgage they can get. This will have an immediate impact.

We do not know from the debate we have just had whether the Opposition is in favour of the Affordable Housing Bill. While Opposition parties called a vote on it, they refused to put forward tellers to tell us whether they were in favour, against or abstaining on it. It will be interesting when we the Bill returns to us for Report Stage.

The issue of housing, as has been said by Senator O'Loughlin, is one on which we should all put our shoulders to the wheel and work together. It should not be a divisive issue. It is very unfortunate that it has been made a divisive issue by Members on the Opposition benches. If we used our collective wisdom and worked together on this issue, we could resolve it, as we must do for every person in the State.

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