Seanad debates

Friday, 4 June 2021

9:30 am

Photo of Malcolm ByrneMalcolm Byrne (Fianna Fail)

Thank you, a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. Like my colleagues, I pay tribute to Senator Fitzpatrick for all the work she has put in on this issue. She has tried to do it in a way that is collaborative with others, which is important.

A bit like Senator Cassells, who spoke earlier, the motion is very personal to me. It is part of the reason I got involved in politics and it is about the important things for us in politics. What are the important things we can do as politicians? For me, it is about creating the conditions for employment in communities, giving people access to education and ensuring people have a roof over their heads and can aspire to owning their own home. That is part of the reason I am a member of Fianna Fáil. I refer to its core values. For us in Fianna Fáil, being able to build housing and people having access to affordable housing are really important. Similar to Senator Cassells, my experience growing up in Gorey was that it was local authorities that built social and affordable estates in communities. They really made a difference.

We in Fianna Fáil are strong believers in local government as well. It is very difficult for those of us who are in the political centre or on the centre left to now be hearing these right-wing policies about abolishing property taxes from parties that are at the same time taking large foreign donations. Those kind of right-wing policies have no place in our housing or local government system. If we are going to get local authorities to build housing, we need to have properly funded local government. That is essential.

I listened to the contribution of Senator Higgins. She is right about how the Constitution has been interpreted. I am very proud of the Constitution. It was the first Constitution in the world to be adopted by popular vote. There are many inherent rights contained within that Constitution for citizens. Irish citizens voted for that document in the 1930s. At the time, there were good reasons as to why private property had to be protected. Private property rights were not being respected in western Europe, or anywhere else in Europe, in the 1930s. However, we have now moved to a different circumstance.

I disagree with Senator Craughwell with regard to an aspiration to a constitutional right to housing because he knows, as I do, the protections provided within the Constitution in the context of education and how the Constitution has been used to guarantee educational rights, particularly for some of the most vulnerable in society.The Constitution is the most important document in the State. It is particularly important, therefore, that we recognise in that document that there should be a roof over individuals' heads.

Senator Higgins is correct. It is unfortunate that there has been an interpretation that effectively excludes the common good over a long period. We must provide the necessary rebalancing. As colleagues have said, the provision of housing is the greatest domestic challenge we face. Unlike others, I do not believe there is a magic solution or that we can simply click our fingers and tell a chief executive of a local authority that we are going to build lots of housing, while disparaging builders, as Senator Seery Kearney said. Most of the small firms involved in housebuilding are builders, not big developers.

We require a suite of measures, even though everyone hates that phrase, to address the challenge we have. That includes the two Bills we are dealing with, namely, the Affordable Housing Bill and Land Development Agency Bill. It includes addressing the underlining costs, to which Senator Paul Daly referred, that are increasing housing prices. It includes an alignment between the planning regulator, An Bord Pleanála and Irish Water. It requires all of those measures. It requires our local authorities to be properly funded and to work with the private sector. I do not know why people object to the private sector. Who is going to build these houses? It will be the builders who live in our communities and who will, in turn, employ subcontractors such as electricians, bricklayers and plumbers. Why is there an objection to engaging with the private sector? I cannot figure it out. We will not be able to achieve the supply we need unless the public and private sector co-operate.

The Government knows about the challenge we will face. This motion, on its own, will not suddenly solve the housing crisis, but it says something about us as a national parliament that we put a belief in a right to housing in the Constitution. I do not necessarily believe in naming the date straight away. Having a discussion and a broad conversation around the issue and the exact wording will be very useful. I strongly support the motion. It is personal to me. I commend the proposer on bringing it before the House.

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