Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

9:30 am

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent)

I congratulate Senator Fitzpatrick for bringing this motion forward. Her constant speeches on housing and homelessness are to be commended. However, unlike most of my colleagues here, I do not support a constitutional referendum on housing. It is a nonsense and a complete waste of time.

Senator McGahon in his address a few moments ago brought us down to the street to the ordinary 30-something-year-old trying to buy a house. I had a phone call from a relation the other day about this debate. She asked me what exactly it means if there is a constitutional amendment that gives her a right to a home if she cannot afford one. Does it mean she could go to the courts and force somebody to give her a house at a particular price? It does not. Sticking an amendment in the Constitution is way too crude an instrument.

We need to address two things. Senator Higgins spoke about the laws which protect property rights. It is amazing how those laws protect the property rights of the extremely wealthy but when it comes to a private soldier on a pension, we cannot protect his property right with regard to that pension. We abate it if he gets another job in the public service. I bought, sold or rented 13 houses in my life. None was to make an income. The first house I had I lost because of a bad business decision.In those days, one could go into a bank, explain what went wrong, get another mortgage and start again. Senator McGahon has spoken about €900 a month. I know a couple who are paying €1,800 a month. They cannot possibly save a deposit. The Central Bank says if one does not have a deposit, one cannot buy a house. That is where we need to start with the law. The Central Bank must recognise that there are people who are paying rents that would pay a mortgage and leave them with change, money in their pockets with which they could live a normal life and enjoy it. People are spending every penny they have to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads. Rents of €1,800 a month are being charged for a one-bedroom apartment. We are not to worry about that, though, and instead look after the property rights of the individual who owns the apartment. What about the unfortunate couple who cannot dream about having a child? Where would they put a child? They cannot do that. They cannot have any sort of a reasonable life. The particular couple I am talking about are earning reasonable wages but, at the end of the day, will never save the money for a deposit. All the constitutional amendments in the world will not get them into a house.

Why are there over 500 housing agencies in this country? What happened to local authorities that existed in the 1950s when we had nothing? They built houses. I remember my father telling me that if a piece of timber arrived on a site with a knot in it, it was sent back. Our local authorities built the finest houses, as Senator Cassells adverted to in his speech. They built the finest of houses and we accommodated people in the finest of accommodations. What have we done now? For the second time, a housing estate has been completed in my area with a wall around it and nobody in it. Why? Are they waiting for the prices to go up? In another housing estate, the builder released one house to the market every three months. Their value started somewhere around €750,000 and finished up at €1.2 million. What is going on?

Senator Fitzpatrick is a great advocate for people who are homeless and for those who need homes but she must forgive me for going against her on this. The Constitution is not the solution. I have no idea whether the Affordable Housing Bill is going to do anything. God help me, but I am sick to the back teeth of listening to people who say that we now have the solution to housing. I have listened to that for so long that I am beginning to dread hearing it. When I bought my first house, 2.5 times my salary was enough to get me a mortgage. Tell me anybody who will get a mortgage today at 2.5 times his or her salary. Unless that salary is massive, it is not going to happen.

We need to temper the property rights of individuals who own massive tracts of land with the social needs of the individuals about whom Senator Fitzpatrick is talking. That is what we need to do. When we catch up to the demand that there is in the country, when we have started to house the people, let us then have a constitutional referendum to the right to housing and make sure that, from here on out, everybody has the right to housing. Senator McGahon is correct when he says that if there is a little bit of a shady side to an applicant's employment and he or she might lost a job, banks will not offer a mortgage. Banks want people who are blue-printed and guaranteed for the future.

The Minister of State has a major job ahead of him. They used to talk about the Department of Health as the Angola of Ministries. I am afraid the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is now Angola. I wish the Minister of State and his colleagues the very best. I apologise to Senator Fitzpatrick for rejecting the constitutional element to her argument. The Senator is a decent person who wants the best for people and I accept that.

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