Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

9:30 am

Photo of Mary Seery KearneyMary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)

I support the motion. To have a right to housing enshrined in the Constitution is natural and correct. I have reservations about adequacy and housing. We have a lot of work to do in defining those two words and ensuring they are correct. One of the interesting things one encounters when studying constitutional law is that sections of the Constitution are remarkably similar in wording to the constitutions of India and South Africa. In both instances, the interpretation of clauses in those constitutions relating to socio-economic benefits is different from the interpretation of such clauses in our Constitution. In that respect, Senator Higgins is correct that how we interpret the Constitution and what right that gives people is something to which we need to give good consideration. There is no one better suited to that task than Mr. John O'Connor, who is heading up the commission and will be able to facilitate that discussion in conjunction with the very fine Ministers we have in the Custom House, including the Minister of State.

Listening to the debate as a member of the housing committee, it strikes me that it is so easy to use throwaway phrases such as "Your pals, the investors, vulture funds and developers". That is such a lazy, populist and throwaway trope to throw at the Minister and members of the Government. I do not know any investors. I know one developer who decided to put his or her family home up as collateral when he or she decided to buy a little plot of land at the height of the boom to try to create a business. The developer was employing people, building and providing homes and put up his or her own collateral. That developer is now homeless and living in rented accommodation, having lost everything when the bust came. Many developers and builders across the country are small businesses that took ventures and wish to get back to providing housing.How will they do so? They will do it through the provisions that will flow from the Land Development Agency Bill and the Affordable Housing Bill with which the House dealt today in the context of the many types of tenure that are needed to bring the diversity of society into communities.

We need longer security of tenure for people who are renting. We need it to be lifelong. That is where we come back to the issue of what is adequate and what is housing. What is adequate has to be something that reflects from where people are coming and what their needs are. In that regard, I refer to the whole housing needs and demands and assessment tool. I am one of its biggest fans. I think it is great because we get local knowledge from it. We need to elevate it such that it commands what gets planning permission and what is submitted and ensures one cannot just decide one will build whatever on a site, even if it is a private site. It needs to reflect that housing need and demand. There is a need for people to have an opportunity to trade down and stay within their community or to trade up and allow the growth of families. When we are considering developments and planning communities, it has to reflect all of those things.

I congratulate Senator Fitzpatrick. It was a good motion to bring forward and it is a good debate to have, especially given the business the House has conducted today. However, I appeal for there to be no more populism. The populism of members of the Opposition is just sickening when real people need real housing but we saw the likes of the vote or non-vote today. Their lack of courage in their convictions is quite sickening to watch. I say "Well done" to Senator Fitzpatrick.

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