Friday, 4 June 2021
Right to Housing: Motion
That Seanad Éireann: believes that:- a secure home is a basic human right;acknowledges:
- Covid-19 highlights the essential protection a secure home provides;
- far too many of our citizens are homeless;
- essential middle-income workers are struggling to secure an affordable home;
- young people should expect to secure an affordable home;
- the State has responsibility to protect citizens right to a home;- the Government’s historic housing and homeless prevention budget;and calls:
- the Government’s radical and ambitious Affordable Housing legislation which will see the State, under this Government, lead the provision of social, affordable and affordable cost rental homes;
- the statutory establishment of the Land Development Agency to work with local authorities and other stakeholders to maximise the use of State lands to sustainably develop social and affordable homes for purchase and rent;
- that historically the State provision of housing was determined by prevailing and changing political will;
- that post-Covid Ireland aspires to a society where everyone has a safe place to call home;
- that Bunreacht na hÉireann explicitly protects private property rights in Articles 43 and 40.3 but does not include a corresponding right to a secure home;
- a constitutional right to housing would permanently assert the State’s responsibility to ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing;
- a constitutional right to housing would permanently propel the State to sustainable housing policies designed to ensure access for all to secure housing;
- a constitutional right to housing would not guarantee everyone a free home;
- that the Programme for Government ‘Our Shared Future’ commits to establishing a Commission on Housing to examine issues such as tenure, standards and sustainability in the provision of housing;
- that the Programme for Government commits to holding a referendum on housing;- on the Government to exercise every resource to achieve a sustainable post-Covid future where every Irish citizen has a safe and secure home;
- for all Irish citizens to be given the opportunity through a constitutional referendum to mandate future Governments to pursue sustainable housing policies which ensure every citizen has a secure home by amending Bunreacht na hÉireann to include a right to housing;
- for Article 43 of Bunreacht na hÉireann to be amended as follows:- ‘The State recognises, and shall vindicate, the right of all persons to have access to adequate housing.- on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to advise on the holding of such referendum to allow the Irish people insert a constitutional protection to secure housing for every citizen in Bunreacht na hÉireann.
- The State shall, through legislative and other measures, provide for the realisation of this right within its available resources.’
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. He has spent almost as much time here as we do at the moment. That is a reflection of how important this House is treating the issue of housing. I am glad to welcome him to the House today and to move the motion on behalf of the Fianna Fáil group, which reads: that Seanad Éireann believes that a secure home is a basic human right; that Covid-19 highlights the essential protection a secure home provides; that far too many of our citizens are homeless; and that essential middle-income workers are struggling to secure an affordable home. We believe that young people should expect to secure an affordable home in our country and that the State has responsibility to protect our citizens' rights to a home.We acknowledge the Government's historic housing and homelessness prevention budget and its radical and ambitious affordable housing legislation, which will see the State, under this Government, lead the provision of social, affordable and affordable cost-rental homes.
We also acknowledge the statutory establishment of the Land Development Agency, LDA, to work with local authorities and other stakeholders to maximise the use of State lands to sustainably develop social and affordable homes both for purchase and rent. We acknowledge that, historically, the State provision of housing was determined by the prevailing and changing political will and that, in post-Covid Ireland, we aspire to be a society where everyone has a safe place to call home.
Bunreacht na hÉireann explicitly protects private property rights in Article 43 but it does not have a corresponding right to a secure home. A constitutional right to housing would permanently assert the State’s responsibility to ensure access for all our citizens to adequate, safe and affordable housing. A constitutional right to housing would permanently propel the State to sustainable housing policies designed to ensure access for all to secure housing. A constitutional right to housing would not guarantee everyone a free home. The Programme for Government: Our Shared Future commits to establishing a commission on housing to examine the issues around housing such as tenure, standards and sustainability in the provision of housing and to holding a referendum on housing.
On that basis, we call on the Minister of State, on behalf of the Government, to exercise every resource to achieve a sustainable post-Covid future where every Irish citizen has a safe and secure home and for all Irish citizens to be given the opportunity, through a constitutional referendum, to mandate not just this Government but future Governments to pursue sustainable housing policies, which ensure that every citizen has a secure home by amending Bunreacht na hÉireann to include a right to housing and, specifically, to amend Bunreacht na hÉireann to include two provisions, namely, hat the State recognises, and shall vindicate, the right of all persons to have access to adequate housing, and that the State shall, through legislative and other measures, provide for the realisation of this right within the available resources. We call on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to advise this House on the holding of a referendum to allow the Irish people to insert a constitutional protection to secure housing for every citizen in Bunreacht na hÉireann.
I do not believe any Member of this House does not recognise the crisis in housing that is gripping our society and country. We all consider it unacceptable, as does the Minister of State, that more than 6,000 people are homeless.
Tens of thousands of working people cannot afford to own their own home and tens of thousands of people are renting in unaffordable situations with insecure tenure. Teachers, nurses, gardaí and other front-line workers, such as bus drivers, healthcare workers and shop assistants, are either locked into unaffordable rents or locked out of owning their own home. It is really important for our children, grandchildren and everyone else that this Government has made housing such a priority and is doing everything it can to address the housing crisis.
The question probably arises as to where we are going with this motion. We are going beyond this Government, this House and politics. We are going to Bunreacht na hÉireann, our Constitution, which basically captures the values to which we aspire for our society and want to uphold and deliver for our citizens.
In terms of this Government and the historic budget of €3.1 billion, €2.2 billion of which is for capital spending, this will be the biggest social housing programme in more than a decade. It will deliver 12,000 social homes and provide €220 million for homelessness prevention.In the short term, it is essential to addressing the housing crisis. The Affordable Housing Bill 2021 that we have been debating here in recent days will establish a lead for the local authorities and the State in the provision of affordable homes for purchase and rent.
The affordable cost-rental model, which was created in Vienna after the Second World War when Austrian society decided it wanted to ensure everyone had an affordable home, is very important. That is why we are championing this affordable cost-rental model in Ireland. We fully support the Government's efforts to introduce that model in the Affordable Housing Bill 2021. It will ensure the State will take the lead in the provision of affordable homes for purchase and rent, as well as social homes for those who cannot afford to purchase and protections for those who are homeless. It will also use and seek to use any private homes being delivered through Part 5 and double the social and affordable element in every private development. It will go further still by providing financial support through the shared equity scheme to people paying more in rent than they would for a mortgage and who want to buy their own homes.
The Land Development Agency is being established to strategically manage public land owned by the Departments of Health and Defence and other State authorities. These State lands will be used to deliver affordable homes. That is a game-changing approach which will deliver for generations to come. It will allow the State to use public lands for maximum public benefit. The Minister and Department are working on a new housing for all programme. In July, that programme will deliver even further in respect of multi-annual targets and budgets. Once we pass the legislation, it will make sense to then add more funding, including significantly more capital funding.
I note the welcome and timely report from the ESRI, which encourages the Government, based on the need for housing and the prevailing financial environment, to increase further the capital budget over the coming decade. I believe the Government will do that.
We are in a crisis and it is one which did not develop overnight. This brings us back to the fundamental question of how we compel the State to take the lead permanently in ensuring that it delivers on the right for people to have access to secure and affordable homes. Morally, politically, economically, socially and in every other respect, the right thing to do is to provide a right to housing in our Constitution. Only when people have a stake in society and feel like they belong to society is it possible to achieve cohesion. Far too many of our citizens do not feel a sense of ownership as they do not own a home.
We want to have a sustainable society in post-pandemic Ireland, one which captures our values. I believe the majority of Irish people, if not all, believe that a right to housing is a basic human right. On a European stage, we must accept that Ireland is lagging behind our European neighbours in this regard. Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden and other countries already have constitutional protections and provide for the right to a home. Germany, France, Austria and Luxembourg have all legislated for such a right. The United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights calls for such a right, the European Social Charter commits to it and the United Nations sustainable development goals to which we have signed up require us to ensure that every citizen has access to a secure and affordable home.
This issue boils down to a fundamental question. Do we believe that access to a home is a basic human right? If so, will we call on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to ask the people of Ireland their opinion on this issue? Do we want to give people in Ireland, through a referendum, the choice to mandate not just this Government but future Governments in respect of such a right?It is not a decision just for politicians to make. This is a decision for all the people of our country to make. I urge the Minister of State and the Government to put this question to our people and give them the opportunity to express their preference regarding the values they want for our country post pandemic.
It gives me great pleasure to second the motion, which goes to the very heart of the party I am proud to represent, Fianna Fáil. It is a party that has done much work in providing homes and sustainable communities. We are in a crisis. The time we have spent here discussing housing in the past week shows that it is the most crucial issue we are dealing with and rightly so. Much of our time in the Dáil and the Seanad in recent years has been consumed by the Brexit and Covid-19 crises. We must completely redirect our energy and focus now to housing to ensure people have the opportunity to have safe, secure and affordable homes. My colleague, Senator Fitzpatrick, is correct about bringing this debate from these Houses to the people of Ireland. We must have a national conversation regarding a right for everyone to have a safe, secure and affordable home. We must have that right enshrined in Bunreacht na hÉireann forevermore so that generations of politicians and people living in our country in the years to come will benefit, hopefully, from having such a provision inserted in the Constitution.
The crisis in housing means we are referring to many different cohorts of people. We are referring to people who cannot afford their own homes and who make up housing lists nationwide, including 6,500 people in my county of Kildare. We are talking about people who are continuing to live with their parents well beyond the time when they should have been able to move into spaces of their own. We are talking about families living in very cramped accommodation and not being able to buy homes or upgrade from starter homes to ones where families can be raised. We are also talking about a generation of people who may have reared their families and are now ready to move from a larger home. They may want the opportunity to move to a different type of living accommodation, whether within a retirement complex or to a smaller home close to services in a town centre. Therefore, we must consider all the cohorts involved.
We must especially consider those people who have no homes to call their own and who are living in emergency accommodation. Such situations have devastating impacts on family units. Teachers have told me that they see the impact of such situations manifested in schools, particularly regarding children's ability to learn and progress. Toxic stress within families has a devastating impact on students and this has been demonstrated through research conducted in America. We must be mindful, therefore, of the generations coming up and ensure that they will have the best opportunities in life. In addition, we must also consider students having access to accommodation close to their college or other place of education. We must, therefore, cater for many different groups of people in this regard.
We must all work together and put party politics aside in working on the issue of housing.I honestly believe that inserting the right to housing within our Constitution to a certain extent takes the politics out of it, because we all have a united aim. Let us all get behind this motion. I appeal to my colleagues to do so. Let us take the politics out of housing and do our best to ensure we have a national conversation. People down the line will thank us for inserting that provision.
I welcome the Minister of State and I thank Fianna Fáil for bringing this Private Members' motion to the House today.
What does a right to housing mean? The Simon Communities defines a right to housing as, at the most basic level, the right to have housing needs met by the State if a person cannot meet them from his or her own resources.
In 2020, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission carried out a survey. Some 82% of people in the country believed that such a right should be a human right. In 2020, a total of 8,200 people, including dependants, were homeless in this country. In 2020, if there had been a right to housing in our Constitution, the Government would have been guilty of infringing on this right 8,200 times.
Every good argument has two sides and. In the case of whether the Constitution should have a right to housing, the two sides of the argument must be carefully considered. Many are in favour of a right to housing. Home for Good is a group of organisations and individuals who believe that constitutional change is an essential underpinning for any successful programme to tackle our housing and homelessness crisis. The group argues in favour of a right to housing. It considers this proposed right to be necessary to rebalance the Constitution.
Is there an imbalance in the Constitution? Currently, Bunreacht na hÉireann expressly protects private property in Article 43 and states that such private property rights can only be infringed on for the purposes of the common good. However, there is no definition of the common good. The Home for Good position paper explains how this has had consequences in the past. On 12 separate occasions over recent years, pending legislation to reform Ireland's housing crisis failed to progress in the Dáil when Article 43 was raised as a barrier. These 12 tranches of legislation could have helped one or all those 8,200 homeless people in this country.
The other side of the argument raises the question of whether these 12 tranches of legislation would have compromised the private property rights of our citizens. Home for Good claims there is an imbalance in the Constitution, but in the interests of balancing rather than shifting the weight, another question should be asked: what consequences do we face if the people vote in favour of a constitutional right to housing? A vote in favour of a right to housing would make the right an enumerated right. This is a right outlined and enshrined in the Constitution. The Constitution has several enumerated rights, such as the right to freedom of assembly, the right to association and the right to freedom of speech. We have other rights which are not enshrined in the Constitution. These are unenumerated rights. The right to marry, the right to privacy, the right to earn a living and the right to bodily integrity are examples of unenumerated rights. These rights are not written in the Constitution but instead are derived from rights which are enumerated. In the case of McGee v. Attorney General the right to marital privacy was derived from the protection of marriage in Article 41 and the protection of personal rights in Article 40.3. In a recent Supreme Court case it was speculated that the right to a clean and healthy environment could be derived from Article 10 protections on the ownership of natural resources and State property as well as other constitutional protections of the home. If the right to housing becomes an enumerated right, what rights will the courts derive from it? Will there be new rights the Government and the people do not get a say on?
The Dáil voted against the introduction of a proposed right to housing in 2017. Perhaps, as the Home for Good paper suggests, this was laziness.It is easier to use Article 43 as an excuse than to reform. Perhaps it was because creating rights has consequences and creates responsibilities.
The right to housing is being sold to us a solution to a problem we have. Yet, is it a solution? The UN has recognised the right to adequate housing as a fundamental human right. The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Ireland has ratified, includes a right to adequate housing in Article 11. Countries, including South Africa, Scotland and France, have incorporated a right to adequate housing into their constitutions. Nonetheless, homelessness exists worldwide, nonetheless, housing markets still have supply shortages and rising demand and, nonetheless, problems remain.
It is not a negative but a cautious note I want to impart as we consider the motion. Creating a right to housing does not only create a right to housing. It empowers the courts to create rights that go beyond a right to housing. Moreover, with rights come responsibilities, which the Government, businesses and taxpayers have to carry. Yet, with rights solutions do not necessarily come. The ESRI does not recommend a right to housing. The institute recommends we double our investment. It recommends building 35,000 homes a year when we are only building 15,000 to 20,000. It recommends we borrow more and build more. With rights only come responsibilities. Is the Government prepared to take on such responsibilities? I doubt it.
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.
The Labour Party has been wholeheartedly in favour of a constitutional right to housing, along with other socioeconomic rights, for a number of years. Driving socioeconomic rights, including the right to a home in the Constitution, would make a difference to people but it would not solve all of the problems. It would not end the housing crisis overnight and it would not be a silver bullet. However, it can make a significant difference.
Introducing a constitutional right to housing is a policy direction for the Government and courts, and this is the effect of it. Time and again in recent years, particularly when it comes to issues such as renters' rights, we have heard there has to be a balance between renters and landlords. This in itself is a policy choice. I credit Home for Good and those involved in that campaign for coming up with the wording. Many of them argues, as do constitutional scholars, that a constitutional impediment against good progress housing policy does not exist. This is based on court decisions on very specific circumstances from 50 years ago. That is not to say we are not in favour of this proposal but it is important to put it in that context.
Most people think of a constitutional right to housing as using public land exclusively to build public homes. They think about the State following what the ESRI said, which is to double capital expenditure and to be a significant player in the housing market rather than simply trying to incentivise investors to enter the social housing market and housing market, with ambitious building programmes not relying on investment funds and developer and investor pals.These are policy choices and that will continue to be the case if and when we have this constitutional right to housing.
We have seen in recent weeks the Government putting below-market discount rather than affordability at the heart of the Affordable Housing Bill. We have seen the Government failing to consider apartments as homes. We have seen it failing to protect people who live in inner city neighbourhoods and city neighbourhoods from investment funds. We have seen it introduce the profit motive to cost rental and fail to take on board the Opposition's affordability concerns. These are policy choices. Time and again, we have had policy choices that include the commodification of social housing, failing to give renters long-term security of tenure, gentrifying places in the inner city and forcing single people out of cities due to high rents and exorbitant house prices.
The Labour Party wholeheartedly supports the right to housing in the Constitution. However, we need to make sure we have the policy choices and laws to be able to back up and vindicate people's rights to housing and housing standards, long leases and a decent standard of living quality for an affordable price linked to their income and not just below-market rents.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. As Senator Moynihan has said, we support the introduction of a constitutional right to housing. It is so important that housing, the right to shelter and a home, is seen as a basic human right in our fundamental law. We support this wholeheartedly. However, we also need to see practical measures put in place, as Senator Moynihan has said, in the shorter term to vindicate people's right to shelter and ensure people can access affordable homes.
The problem in recent years is that we have seen a complete lack of prioritisation of housing. The past five years have been wasted. We should have seen the building of housing, including affordable housing. Now, because that was not done, we have a national housing crisis and people throughout this city and the country have been priced out of renting and of buying homes.
The Labour Party will continue to work with the Government and to engage constructively to ensure better protection is put in place for tenants. I am glad that this afternoon, in our debate on the Affordable Housing Bill, we succeeded in having a Labour Party amendment accepted by the Government that will improve protection for tenants and the cost-rental model being put in place. This is hugely important because tenants need to have better security of tenure and we need to see principles on affordable rents put in place.
In Dublin Bay South, the average rent is €2,111 per month. For that to be affordable, most people would need take-home pay of €6,330 per month based on paying approximately one third of net income. That is simply not sustainable. We have allowed investment funds and institutional investors to keep market rents at an artificially elevated level and price people out of renting and out of buying homes.
For a long time, the Labour Party has been speaking about the urgent need to build more houses on public land and to build 80,000 homes over five years on public land. This was in our manifesto in last year's election. The Government has simply failed to grasp this nettle and has failed to deliver on housing to the extent it should have done. We hope we will see changes in policy. We want to see homes made available for people, and not just to see housing as a constitutional right but to see it as a reality for people throughout the country.
I welcome the Minister of State. The Green Party believes access to adequate, secure, affordable and environmentally sound housing is a basic human right. This right should be set out in our Constitution. We call on the Government to move urgently to bring forward a referendum to amend the Constitution to include this right to housing. This is what is stated in Green Party policy and we decided to go into government last year because we want to put it in our Constitution. We believe in stepping up to the mark and putting our money where our mouth is. That is what we have been doing.
Record amounts of funding are going into housing. The Minister has faced a difficulty with Covid.Despite that, as one of my colleagues said, we have had over 16 hours of debate on the Affordable Housing Bill. This is before it even goes to the Dáil. We have had pre-legislative scrutiny of the Affordable Housing Bill. There are really radical things in that Bill, which will transform housing in this country. For the first time ever, we will have cost-rental on a legislative footing. The Green Party has looked to follow this Vienna model of cost-rental for decades.
Some 38% of countries around the world have a right to housing in their constitutions. This is Ireland and this Government moving to where we should be. Notwithstanding some of the comments on different decisions by the courts, the key issue is to have one right to housing in the Constitution, not a complementary or even competing right, in order to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. We need to have both a right to ownership and a right to housing in the Constitution.
This is also about the type of housing we are looking at. It is about the right to housing, as Senator Boyhan said during one of our debates, but it is also about the right to homes and what they should look like. Homes have to be comfortable. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have a right to housing, but it is about the type of housing as well. We need to ensure it is not just about paying a mortgage but being able to afford to eat in that home. What type of community is the home in? It needs to be intergenerational, diverse, inclusive and, fundamentally, one that is sustainable throughout the generations. That means all the amenities should be around the home. The most environmentally friendly thing to do is to ensure everything is not far away from our homes. In Galway, people travel from one side of the city, where all the housing is, to the other side where all the jobs are. We have to stop that approach to housing and that is what this Government is doing.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I do not see how anyone could have an issue with this motion. It simply enshrines the right to housing in the Constitution. As the motion states, it is a basic human right. It acknowledges far too many people are homeless and asks that the following is put into our Constitution: "the State has responsibility to protect citizens right to a home". The motion includes some very strong constitutional amendments such as:
'The State recognises, and shall vindicate, the right of all persons to have access to adequate housing,
The State shall, through legislative and other measures, provide for the realisation of this right within its available resources.'
It would be useful if the Opposition offered to work with Government parties in helping resolve the housing crisis, which has no quick fix. This Bill is far from perfect but no one Bill, no matter who wrote it, would solve the housing problem overnight. However, it is a big step in the right direction. The Bill will lead to more houses being built on public land, more people being able to buy their own houses and, for the first time ever, a brilliant cost-rental scheme with security of tenure. I support this motion. It is another step in the right direction.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete all words after “That Seanad Éireann:” and substitute the following:
- access to appropriate and affordable housing is a human right;
- Covid-19 has highlighted how many people are denied this right;
- the number of people experiencing family homelessness will continue to rise due to the Covid-19 rental protections being lifted;
- workers and families are struggling to access affordable housing;
- capital investment in social and affordable housing must be doubled;
- the right to appropriate and affordable housing, and an obligation to eliminate homelessness should be inserted into the Constitution of Ireland;
- in 2019 Fianna Fáil voted against a Bill that would have allowed for a referendum on the right to housing;
- Fianna Fáil secured an additional €160m to deliver only 993 extra homes; €124m to deliver an additional 593 social homes; and €35m to deliver 400 cost rental homes in Budget 2020;
- Fianna Fáil’s developer-led shared equity loan scheme (€75m), compared to cost rental (€30m), will inflate house prices and will do little to increase affordable supply;
- the Land Development Agency is not the solution to the housing crisis and should be repurposed into an active land management agency;
calls on the Government to:
- double capital investment in public housing from €1.4bn to at least €2.8bn;
- fund local authorities, approved housing bodies and community housing trusts to build public housing on public land;
- halt the sweetheart land deals with private developers where up to 60% of the homes are sold at unaffordable open market prices;
and calls on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to provide a date for a referendum on the right to housing to ensure that the public get to vote on inserting the right to appropriate and affordable housing, and an obligation to eliminate homelessness into the Constitution of Ireland.”
We need a radical new plan for housing and we need to move on from the failed policy of Rebuilding Ireland. We need to recognise that if the State is serious about meeting the needs of workers and families and fixing a catastrophic market failure, then we need to double capital investment from €1.4 billion to at least €2.8 billion. By public housing I mean social housing, affordable cost-rental, which Sinn Féin has long supported, and affordable cost-purchase, all on public land and delivered by local authorities, approved housing bodies and community housing trusts. I propose to split my time, three minutes each, with Senator Boylan.
If we are to wean the State off its dependency and subsidy of the private sector, then we need to target 20,000 social and affordable homes every year. That is what is needed to address social and affordable housing need.
I welcome every opportunity to talk about housing. This Fianna Fáil motion follows Sinn Féin's motion, which highlighted the dysfunction of the private rental market. Since then, renters face the prospect of an 8% increase.The Taoiseach gave a commitment in the Dáil on Wednesday to prevent that increase. However, let us be honest, we need to ban rent increases for three years because renters are being fleeced. Sinn Féin has long supported Home for Good and I commend its campaign. This Fianna Fáil motion calls for a right to housing to be inserted in the Constitution, but it is two years since Fianna Fáil voted against a referendum Bill on the right to housing in the Dáil.
Why are Fianna Fáil so late to the table? Why did it vote against that Bill in 2019, which would have triggered a referendum? Can we expect Fianna Fáil to finally come round to the idea of a three-year rent freeze or to Sinn Féin's proposal to put one month's rent back in the pocket of every renter in this State through a refundable tax credit? We, and the people, cannot afford the time it takes for Fianna Fáil to slowly come round. We need Fianna Fáil to show up, so why not do this? If the motion is to have any impact, let us set a date for a referendum on the right to housing and give the public a vote on whether to insert the right to appropriate and affordable housing and an obligation to eliminate homelessness, in the Constitution. Let us set the date and have the referendum.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the right to housing because Sinn Féin has long supported such a referendum. A referendum has been discussed by committees for years and now a motion is being discussed in the Seanad. I respectfully suggest it would be a better service if we could see the legislation promised in the programme for Government to deliver a referendum on the right to housing. The idea of a referendum has been discussed for long enough. The housing crisis is at breaking point. There is no indication in the motion of when to expect that referendum.
When it comes to action, Fianna Fáil’s record is severely lacking. In the first budget of this Government, there was no meaningful additional capital spend as part of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage's, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, first spending proposals. There was just €160 million in additional capital expenditure to deliver only 993 extra homes, €124 million to deliver an additional 593 social homes and €35 million to deliver just over 400 cost rental. Sinn Féin has outlined how the Government must double capital expenditure in public housing and embark on the largest investment in housing in the history of the State, something that is also supported by those radical bodies the ESRI, the European monetary fund, EMF, and the EU. Sinn Féin in government will invest at least €3.8 billion to deliver 20,000 public homes on average, per year, during its term.
It is deeply disappointing that Fianna Fáil, it seems, has highjacked the good work of Home for Good. Fianna Fáil has learned nothing from the constitutional changes that have happened in this country. If it had been paying attention, it would know it does no one any favours for one political party to co-opt a campaign. The big constitutional changes have been won because of decades of campaigning and the hard work of civil society organisations working tirelessly to get cross-party consensus. If Fianna Fáil was serious about enshrining the right to housing, it should work to bring a cross-party legislative proposal on it to the Oireachtas.
The motion takes the wording directly from Home for Good, an excellent organisation that has been campaigning on this for years, but one would not know that from reading the motion or listening to Senator Fitzpatrick's speech. There is not a mention of Home for Good. This is the wrong way to go about building support for a referendum. If Fianna Fáil want to get serious about a right to housing and build the cross-party support that will be required, then they will find that Sinn Féin's door will be open to those discussions. However, let us not forget the wording is Home for Good's and cross-party consensus is not built by failing to acknowledge who did the work. I second the amendment.
I welcome the motion and the fact that a Bill to address this issue was introduced in the Dáil. This is a sign of the momentum and demand that is there in respect of housing. However, I will not deal with the initial parts of the motion. There are counter-motions on the different parts of housing policy, but I will focus primarily on the constitutional referendum. We know the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural rights, as mentioned, has spoken about the right to adequate housing.Ms Leilani Farha, the former UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, wrote to the Government expressing specific concerns regarding policies and laws in this State that treat housing as a commodity and undermine the enjoyment of housing as a human right. She specifically identified the financialisation of housing, including the role of global capital in using housing as security for financial instruments, as a key counterpoint and underminer of the achievement of the right to housing, whether or not such a right is included in the Constitution. That type of financialisation is, she said, disconnecting housing from its core social purpose.
There are many positive measures contained in the legislation that is coming through but it is really important that we listen to the concerns expressed by Ms Farha. We are hearing from the UN and others that there are tensions in terms of the financial instrumentalisation of housing and the role of global capital markets. The warning is that their aims are not necessarily the same aims we may have in terms of protecting the right to housing. We need to be very careful in regard to that power balance. Notwithstanding the many positive aspects of legislation brought forward, as I said, there are concerns in terms of addressing the tension that has been identified by the UN rapporteur, who not only looked at the situation in Ireland in detail but also the wider perspective.
That is the context of our discussion on the right to housing. It is not simply that such a right would be a nice and good thing to have and would show how much we all care. It is important and necessary to specify that right because of the way the Constitution has been interpreted. It is necessary because it is not simply a case of adding something on; in fact, it is needed to counteract an interpretation that is already there. Article 40.3 talks about the "property rights of every citizen". Article 43.2 refers to the need for private ownership rights "to be regulated by principles of social justice" and specifies that the State "may as occasion requires" delimit the exercise of private property rights, "with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good". Unfortunately, it has not been interpreted that the common good should outweigh property rights on occasion. The scope to do so was potentially there but we have had not the case law to facilitate it.
Many good legislative provisions have not been moved forward because they were claimed to be blocking property rights. In the case of my proposal for a vacant sites tax, for example, we were told it could not be done. Such a tax was, in fact, introduced at a later date. We have had the same experience in our Civil Engagement Group. We were told that proposals we put forward would undermine property rights but, a year or two later, the same proposals were introduced. The same argument was made in respect of proposals on domestic violence and the status of illegitimacy in terms of how they might impact on the rights of homeowners. A number of times, property rights have been given this heavy weighting and emphasis in interpretation. That is why we need these proposals. They might not have been needed if there had been a different interpretation of property rights, but they are needed as things stand. It is true that when we create rights, we also create responsibilities. The concern at the moment is that the State already has responsibilities to its citizens that it is not fulfilling because of concerns about the Constitution as currently framed. The responsibilities are already there and the purpose of including a right to housing is to ensure the State can meet those responsibilities.
I want to refer briefly to the wording of the motion. Senator Fitzpatrick, in proposing it, spoke about how such provision is made all over the world, through constitutions and in legislation. It is part of the UN's sustainable development gains. I absolutely support the Home for Good campaign and my former colleague, former Senator Colette Kelleher, was an incredibly strong champion in promoting this issue. However, I wonder whether the language used could be stronger. The motion proposes that Article 43 be amended to state "The State recognises, and shall vindicate, the right of all persons to have access to adequate housing." That is good, but it further proposes that the Article should state "The State shall, through legislative and other measures, provide for the realisation of this right within its available resources." We need to be clear that the State will not simply have the responsibility to use its resources to deliver housing. It must also have the power to produce laws that may temper private rights. That may require a reference to "the law" in the first clause. I really like the wording in the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2020, which was put forward by People Before Profit, because it refers to a right to "dignified housing", which is included as part of the UN's economic, social and cultural rights, and places a requirement on the State to vindicate the right to housing through laws and policies. My final point relates to the major concern that I hope will be addressed in the Affordable Housing Bill. The State must guard its resources if it is to fulfil its responsibilities. If we give away public land to the private market, we are in danger of not having the resources we need to vindicate the rights that are, rightly, being proposed in the motion. Let us make sure we protect the resources of the State in order to use them for the common good. I support the motion.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I pay tribute to Senator Fitzpatrick for tabling the motion. She has been a tenacious battler in advocating for the right to housing and the importance of sustainable housing. Her contributions on this topic in the year since she came to the House, both in this Chamber and in committee, have been very significant.
Many will ask what it matters whether we have a referendum on housing. They might argue that the many millions of euro that would be saved by not having a referendum could be spent on the provision of a small scheme of homes somewhere. Perhaps they are right. However, the issue at stake is how we view the provision of housing in this State to begin with. There are plenty who come into this Chamber, and even more so in the Dáil, and roar and shout that housing is treated as a commodity. Those who do so have not a bull's notion – or, even worse, they do not care – how finance is raised and capital acquired to start a scheme and pay for the raw materials, wages and subcontractor services needed to build homes. They skip over that bit in the debate and ignore the issues pertaining in the marketplace, such as the rising costs of raw materials as a consequence of the Covid crisis, because, to them, the marketplace is not something of concern. For everyone else in the real world, it is a key concern.
On the question of whether housing is treated as a commodity or a right, there is a core belief among everyone in the Fianna Fáil Party that it is a right. That has been demonstrated over decades of the party being in government. The housing estates that were built across the length and breadth of the country are a testament to that. That housing is a physical edifice that cannot be ignored by those who want to claim otherwise. I can walk onto the driveway of my parents' home in the centre of Navan and see, on every side of me, the estates that were built by Fianna Fáil over the decades. What we have seen in recent decades is a shift away from the construction of large council estates and a move towards mixed-tenure estates. There are good arguments put forward by experts on housing as to why that is the approach but, frankly, I disagree with the logic behind it. Experts will argue that it is not just about building homes but building communities and that previous large-scale projects were associated with massive social deprivation. However, the same problems are now being experienced on large private estates that were built during the boom. That is because the core issue of the provision of community infrastructure was not addressed when those private estates were built. That goes to the core of it.
One of the experts in this field is Mr. John O'Connor. I interviewed him many years ago, as a journalist for the The Public Sector Magazine, and had an opportunity to tease out this issue with him. He is a strong believer in this particular philosophy. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, has appointed Mr. O'Connor as chairperson of the new commission on housing. The Minister and the Government believe the commission should consider the question of a referendum on the right to a home. While that issue is being thrashed out, the Custom House might deal with the one major requirement for dealing with this crisis, namely, land. During the previous term, I questioned the then Secretary General of the Department, Mr. John McCarthy, on the delivery of homes by local authorities at a meeting of the Committee of Public Accounts at which the Minister of State, who was sitting beside me as a committee member, also posed questions.
One of the points I focused on in that discussion was local authority land banks. I referred specifically to the fact that in many counties where the pressure for homes, both private and social, is at its most pressing, there is a significant shortage of land. This is particularly the case in the commuter counties of Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. Meath County Council, for instance, has no significant land banks worth talking about that could be used to deliver homes, which is the very essence of what is needed. When I raised that point at the committee, the response was that the Department was not in the market for land and was working through the land banks from the land aggregation scheme, which bailed out councils that had done bad deals on land during the boom years. In the case of some of the land they bought, one would not put hens out to lay eggs on it. One wonders what they were at to have acquired those lands in the first place.I return to my original point that the philosophy of people in high places has been one of not building large council-led estates. This being adopted as policy by Departments over recent decades, regardless of the merits of the philosophy, allowed a scenario to develop where there were not enough homes to satisfy those who wanted them. That was a failure. The fact that there are 4,500 people on the housing waiting list in my county of Meath shows it was a failure and cannot be called anything else.
The work that we were completing today on the Affordable Housing Bill in the Seanad before the Minister of State arrived is crucial in rebalancing that philosophy and giving people a chance to own their own home through initiatives such as the shared equity scheme and, crucially, the increase up to 20% of affordable and social homes being made available in developments. The Land Development Agency has a big role in rebalancing the supply and regenerating areas of dereliction. Some of the proposals on the books of the LDA are really imaginative and do more than build homes. They rejuvenate areas, for which I am a huge advocate.
I pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, and the Ministers of State, Deputies Burke and Noonan, for working hard on the Affordable Housing Bill because there is a change of attitude here.
Senator Fitzpatrick asked in her contribution earlier how we, regardless of who will be in power in these Houses in the coming decades, compel the State to live up to the standards we expect when it comes to delivering sustainable homes for all of our people. She is dead right to have this conversation about the right to a home in tandem with the work that is going on to build the homes we need. That is what we are about here: a change of attitude in the approach to housing. I hope that part of that change of attitude will come when the Government and Mr. O’Connor in his new role as chair of the housing commission look at this issue being proposed today by Fianna Fáil and deal with it positively. If they attempt to fudge it, it will be back on the desk of the Minister of State and the Minister fairly sharpish.
I want to take a more rounded approach to this discussion around housing. It is good that the entire discussion in this House today has revolved around housing, and in the last two weeks as well. It shows we all see the urgency behind this issue and the importance of getting it solved. I will take a wider approach and touch on some of the comments I made during the Second Stage debate on the Affordable Housing Bill.
The first is on mortgages and the total lack of competition in the mortgage market. That tends to freeze out a lot of people. Competition is key and where there is competition people will try to give the consumer a better deal. During the week, I was struck by this when a couple came to me who are good friends of mine. They have come home from working in the NHS in London. Both have very good jobs and substantial deposits. The wife has started working for the HSE; the husband is still working for the NHS and works across the Border. No bank and nobody will give them a mortgage because he is paid in sterling. A bank can decide to do that and if we had competitiveness and competition, that would not happen. The family has to go to the local authority and get a mortgage through it, but they are not the type of people that scheme was designed for. They are more than capable of getting a mortgage from a lender. That is one example that encapsulates the lack of competition.
The other issue is that when I have tried to get mortgages and loans in recent months the biggest problem I have, which we all have, is that they turn around to say we have not got stable employment. That is fair enough but, where somebody is paying €900 per month in rent, surely a mortgage lender or bank should be able to look at that, see the individual has the capacity to pay that €900 per month and take that sum into consideration. However, they do not take it into consideration. That is another unfair example of how we need to widen the level of competition.
If this is to be local authority led house building, we need to have clear, definitive targets of what we expect from local authorities. We need to remember it is not just a Dublin-centred debate, but a countrywide one. Other local authorities will be able to deliver housing better than lesser local authorities. What will we set for Louth, Leitrim and Offaly county councils? It does not always have to be about Dublin County Council, Dublin this or Dublin that. The largest concentration of the population is there but we need a wider approach.I would be interested, as I said in the Affordable Housing Bill debate, in how the chief executives of local authorities will be held accountable if such authorities fail to hit the targets in terms of housebuilding. We should also roll out across the country a scheme of compulsory purchase orders to take vacant and derelict houses, many of which are caught up in vulture funds or going through issues of probate with families. Louth County Council ran an impressive pilot project over recent years. It was the forerunner of all local authorities in doing it. If we could implement a dedicated funding scheme, similar to the voids programme, to give money to local authorities for compulsory purchase orders for vacant homes, that could go a long way.
I saw last night when Richard Bruton was on "The Tonight Show" and I have seen in this House a bit that this whole debate around housing is ideologically driven. The point I made two weeks ago is that I am 30 years of age and if one were to ask any of my friends, who are normal people, they do not care whether the house is built on public or private land, by a local authority or a developer. They just want the opportunity to work hard and get an affordable house. The common sense approach is sometimes missed when we in this House get up to the higher echelons of debate and discussions around housing. What does the average person in the street want to do? He or she wants the opportunity to buy their own home. We can lose sight of that sometimes when we get bogged down in the ideological aspects of the housing debate. The quickest way to provide that opportunity is build, build, build and continually increase supply. Once we do that, we will see housing lists in local authorities going down and people of my generation being able to buy an affordable house. We will see people going into effective cost rental housing or living in an estate that is mixed use, with social housing, private housing and affordable housing. That is the way forward. Having those mixes of housing is a good way to get away from the mistakes of the 1980s. In my area, we built substantial social housing en bloc.
It is so simple. Over the next three years, the lifetime of this Government, we need to set clear, definitive targets and we are doing it through the legislation that went through today. We need to say, for example, that we want to build 8,000 houses this year, 8,000 the next year and 8,000 the year after. I think we are doing that and I am confident we will deliver on that. In three years time, the Government will be able to turn around and say this was what the housing issue was like when it took over and this is where it has been left. People of my generation will be able to buy affordable houses and that is the key.
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.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I do not think I will need the full time because most of what I have to say has already been covered. I also compliment Senator Fitzpatrick who has taken her brief in the housing role to an extreme. Her work ethic and dedication to the cause has been second to nobody I have known in these Houses since my first election in 2016.She has a weekly sub-committee meeting for anyone in our parliamentary party who wishes to attend. I do not think that is happening under any other brief. I am not plámásing her or just clapping one of my own on the back for the sake of it when I have the opportunity. She thoroughly deserves our thanks and gratitude. I welcome her Private Members' motion and I am delighted to support it.
I see from where Senator Craughwell is coming. Everybody here will recognise and acknowledge the fact that we have a housing crisis at the moment and, irrespective of what rights are in the Constitution, there is a supply and demand issue. We do not have the required supply. Demand is outrunning supply. For that reason, a constitutional right cannot be met. However, I disagree with the Senator to the extent that the extraordinary advantage of having the basic human right of adequate and appropriate housing that is affordable to someone's circumstances within the Constitution is that it gives recognition to all others, fellow citizens and brethren within the community who are duty-bound by the same Constitution. A constitutional right would give those people recognition of another's right. It would then make it unconstitutional to object to houses being built and that could, and possibly would, meet that other's constitutional right, whether those houses are in Tallaght or Clondalkin, and whether the citizens who would object to planning permission are private citizens or public representatives. That would be the strength of a constitutional right to housing, to address Senator Craughwell's point. It would involve the recognition by everyone of one's right to housing and may make individuals less likely to object to that right.
We all acknowledge there is a shortage of housing and we do not have the houses. I am strongly and actively involved in the GAA and the situation is like the one around tickets for the All-Ireland final. Two tickets come to a local club every year and if somebody hears one has won the two All-Ireland tickets, they think one is heading off to Croke Park for free. In a ticket raffle, one wins the right to buy. I think this is a good comparison to a constitutional right to a house. Some people out there think that if we put this right into the Constitution, people will get houses for free and that if one has a constitutional right to a house, the Government will have to provide it. Like All-Ireland tickets, all one gets is a right to buy the house. It is a right to adequate and appropriate housing that is affordable to an individual's circumstances.
Sinn Féin's amendment demands a date for a referendum but we are a long way from that. I welcome Senator Fitzpatrick's motion and support it. It should go to the Commission on Housing, as Senator Cassells has mentioned, under the chairmanship of Mr. John O'Connor. We need to get this right. We need to get the wording right. Along with our Housing for All project, the Affordable Housing Bill, the Land Development Agency, we need to ensure that we can provide houses for people to whom we are suggesting giving this constitutional right.
There are many uncontrollable issues out there, including Covid-19 and the closing down of the construction industry. As a result of Covid and Brexit, an area with which I have some involvement, the price of building materials has skyrocketed. The goalposts keep moving and it is hard to get ahead of the curve. It is equally hard to stay ahead of the curve if we get ahead of it. This requires collective effort. It is not a political issue. There was a fiasco earlier on the Affordable Housing Bill. Votes were proposed and tellers were not appointed, all for the sake of allowing a party to say, if it is accused of supporting something, that it called a vote and then move on, even though it did not follow through on the vote. Playing politics with issues in that way is not on. That time has gone. We recognise we are in a crisis. We recognise the right and while it is not in the Bunreacht at the moment, we want to see it there. We must work collectively and playing political populism with issues of such importance is not on. It never was and it never should be.
I welcome the Minister of State and support the motion. It highlights what the Government plans to deliver in the coming years. It is important to note that the Government takes the housing crisis seriously, is taking action and is willing to deliver social, affordable and private housing through whatever mechanism to deliver what is needed, namely, homes. It is important that the State uses every available asset it has to support citizens in doing that. The combination of the Affordable Housing Bill, the Land Development Agency and budgets that will be provided will provide homes for everybody for decades to come. The programme for Government agreed by the three parties commits to building on the foundation of Rebuilding Ireland to deliver housing for all. The document expresses a core belief that everybody should have access to good quality housing for purchase or at an affordable rent. It is vital that we deliver on that.
In my county, there are more than 800 people on the housing list but we have a very proactive director of services, Mr. John Brannigan, who is delivering housing for the county. The Minister of State, Deputy Burke, was in Longford earlier today, where three schemes were launched. What we need in the county is a mix of affordable and social housing. Senator McGahon referred to the need to ask questions of all local authorities. Some local authorities are not delivering and there is a need for somebody to be made accountable for that.
I ask the Minister of State to consider other schemes that can provide family homes for people such as allowing people who may wish to downsize from larger three-bedroom or four-bedroom houses to two-bedroom accommodation, thus freeing up the larger houses. There is also the issue of the taxation of rental income in the context of those who have gone into long-term care under the fair deal scheme and whose homes are sitting empty.
I look forward to working with the Minister of State. It is incumbent on us to work with all parties to make sure we deliver what we have promised and, as has been said, not to use this issue as a political football, especially, as we have seen in the past hour, in the context of trying to win an upcoming by-election.
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.
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.
I will share time with Senator Ahearn. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, back to the House and compliment Senator Fitzpatrick on introducing this important motion. I fully support the right of everyone to have a house. There are different forms in which people can have a house, whether that be full ownership, long-term rental with security or public housing.
The Rebuilding Ireland plan mainly provides for building around cities. Some of the land zoned industrial in smaller towns could be rezoned for housing. We may never get an industry into these smaller towns now. When land is rezoned, other land must be dezoned. The Minister should examine this issue. I know of several towns where industrial land could be very useful for housing, and it has all the services ready to go.
It takes up to 16 weeks for Irish Water to process applications for water and sewerage services. When one considers that the planning application can take between 12 and 16 weeks, this adds up to a long period of time for housing applications. These delays as well as increasing costs are putting considerable pressure on builders who are trying to price jobs.I do not see any reason Irish Water is not able to reduce the time it takes to process those planning applications. The local authorities could reduce their time also. We are in a housing crisis and every effort should be made to make it easier for people to get planning permission and to get the water and sewerage connections. Everyone should put their shoulder to the wheel in relation to providing houses because, as every Senator has said here, we are in a housing crisis and whatever needs to be done should be done to make it possible to get our people housed in the months and years ahead.
I welcome the Minister of State to the Chamber. I thank Senator Fitzpatrick for bringing this very important issue to the floor. The Minister of State knows I have spoken to him numerous times about Irish Water and the challenges which areas have, including my county, Tipperary, with water supply and wastewater treatment, and the challenges that brings for everyone in terms of providing houses. We have so many challenges in building houses, but one could solve all of the problems that have been discussed here. There are large rural towns and villages in Tipperary that one cannot build in because of a lack of water supply and funding in that area. I know there has been a significant amount of funding put in already, but the way Irish Water decides where that money is put is crucial. It must invest in line with the plans of local authorities. It should be in terms of growth and areas of growth.
The other issue which I have never seen happen before is where so many people are being approved for mortgages - more than ever before in the history of the State. Banks are willing to approve mortgages for people to build, but they are not willing to give ordinary builders the money to build the houses. We are in a situation where there are builders who want to build, they have people who have the money to build coming to them and asking them to build, but the builders are not getting any money up front from banks or lenders to build. Until that is solved, we will continue to have a problem.
In rural areas, there are many things being brought forward through the Our Rural Future policy and the encouragement of people to move out of big cities to live in rural Ireland. The other thing we must do something about, which Senator Burke spoke on in a different debate, is the restrictions in planning laws and how they must be eased in order for people to live in rural Ireland. The Minister of State will know about it in Westmeath. There are many people who left at a young age, 18 or 19 years, went to college, worked in Dublin for ten or 15 years and now want to come home. We want them to come back and live in rural Ireland and to spend in our area, but we must relax measures to give them the opportunity to come back. It is not possible for someone to move back into an area, stay there for seven years and then build. We must relax that requirement.
I want to touch on a point Senator Bacik made earlier. I know she is in the middle of an election so we must be lenient in some way, but she said the Government has not delivered on housing at all over the last ten years. It is important to remind people post-Covid that we built more houses in 2019 than we did in the last decade. She said in the Chamber that in the last five years the Government did not deliver on housing. She was quite specific in mentioning how it was the last five years. If one looks beyond five years, it was a Labour Party Minister who was in charge, and it was a Labour Party Minister previous to that who was in charge. If Senator Bacik thinks that Fine Gael, Eoghan Murphy and Deputy Simon Coveney did not deliver on housing to a certain extent, if she thinks we failed in it, what does she think her party leader did when he was in the Department with responsibility for housing?
I thank all Members for contributing to this valuable debate. I understand an amendment to the motion has been submitted, which demonstrates the depth of views on this matter. We support the motion and I thank Senator Mary Fitzpatrick and her colleagues for moving it.
It is important that we do not rush to judgment in making a commitment to the electorate. We must ensure we give all aspects of a referendum on housing detailed consideration. There are many complex matters involved that can affect rights in the Constitution, so the process must be balanced in any proposed amendment. Our Constitution is for every citizen and we must protect against unintended consequences. We must be absolutely clear on the full implications that could arise from any amendment for the sake of all. A lack of clarity on all implications of an amendment could result in legal complications for years to come and deflect important resources away from our primary focus, which is to deliver the provision of homes for citizens and the key goal of preventing homelessness. We do not want to see that.
That is why the Government has committed to historic levels of funding for housing and homelessness prevention and to ensuring affordable, quality housing solutions for everyone in our society. The acknowledgement in the motion of the work currently under way across government to deliver affordable housing for all our citizens is appreciated. It is this Government's aim to embed affordability at the heart of Ireland's housing system and prioritise the increased supply of social and affordable homes.
Almost €690 million will be put into affordable measures, including a new affordable purchase shared equity scheme, a new cost rental homes scheme, Rebuilding Ireland home loans, an expanded help to buy scheme and the work of the LDA. The Affordable Housing Bill is currently before this House. The measures in this Bill will, in the near term, improve market access for first-time buyers, stimulate and increase the number of new homes being developed and provide the legislative structure for the development of a cost-rental system in Ireland for the first time. The Bill also sets out the basis an affordable purchase shared equity scheme, which will help alleviate housing affordability challenges for certain groups in the short term and will stimulate supply by providing confidence in the viability of future private housing developments. This Bill also provides the statutory underpinning for affordable housing into the future while the work to deliver the schemes outlined in the Bill is under way.
In addition, on 4 May, the Government also approved the drafting of amending provisions to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 for inclusion in the Affordable Housing Bill as Committee Stage amendments. This will see an increase in the current 10% social housing requirement related to all new housing developments to a mandatory 20% for social and affordable requirements. This is in addition to measures previously introduced to ensure traditional family homes are protected from bulk purchase by investment funds. This is being done through immediate tax measures, with a stamp duty hike and longer-term measures through the planning system. These steps complement other Government supports such as direct build of affordable homes by local authorities, the expanded help to buy scheme and the new shared equity scheme to help level the playing field for first-time buyers and turn generation rent into a generation that can own its own home.
Tackling homelessness remains a key priority for this Government. Budget 2021 reflects this priority with a provision of €218 million to support the provision of homeless accommodation and supports to those experiencing homelessness. We all acknowledge that securing a safe and affordable home for all needs real action on the ground and amending the Constitution on its own will not deliver what is needed. Central to addressing homelessness is increasing the supply of public, social and affordable homes. The historic housing provision of €3.3 billion from budget 2021 will allow us, subject to the impact of Covid-19 this year, to meet the social housing needs of 28,500 households and support the delivery of 12,750 social homes. The review of the national development plan and the upcoming housing for all plan, which will be published this summer, will set out the ambitious range of affordable housing targets throughout the country over the coming years.
It is important to acknowledge that the commitment is to hold a referendum on housing and not just a right to housing. We do not want to restrict thinking on all options. It would be a mistake to think that the right to private property only relates to the wealthy in our country. The private ownership of a home is a matter of great concern to all and we must not ignore this.With this in mind, there is another commitment in the programme for Government that will be critical in supporting the holding of a referendum on housing in a balanced and democratic way. We are establishing a commission on housing and it is intended that this commission will examine a referendum on housing. Work on establishing this commission is advancing quickly and the Minister announced the appointment of the chair-designate last week. This will be Mr. John O'Connor, the retiring chief executive officer of the Housing Agency, who will bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the new post.
The terms of reference will now be drafted in consultation with him and, having regard to the commitments in the programme for Government and the forthcoming housing for all plan, we intend to establish the commission by September. The duration of the commission will be set out clearly once the terms of reference have been completed and a reporting requirement has been established. Our approach will bring together experts from various sectors and will allow for the involvement of stakeholders and for a collective approach. This is an important step to support the holding of a housing referendum in a considered and democratic way.
The proposals in the Private Members' motion that is tabled this evening, along with the amendment, can be evaluated further by the commission, as well as text proposed by many other stakeholders who have expressed an interest in this referendum. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has had the pleasure of meeting some stakeholders in this area already, including representatives of the Mercy Law Centre and the Home for Good coalition, and we are keen to ensure that all voices can be heard in a fair and balanced way.
The commission will be asked to consider and evaluate all proposals and undertake research of relevance. Once the commission has reported on the most appropriate form of words for a constitutional amendment, we intend to consult Cabinet colleagues and seek the advice of the Attorney General before putting it before the people.
By supporting the debate in this House, and indeed in the Dáil yesterday evening, we can inform the development of policy for the holding of a referendum on housing and the establishment of the commission on housing. This is a critical part of the process to ensure considerable thought goes into the approach. Members can clearly see the direction of travel for the Government and that is why the motion put forward by Senator Fitzpatrick is very welcome in that regard, along with the motion before the Dáil last night.
I can make a few brief comments on matters raised by Senators. It is clear that we face a huge challenge and we are working hard to resolve it. Successive Governments have done that. We must first acknowledge where the demand has come from. I have always pointed out that from 2011, demand was increasing rapidly year on year when the State did not have the capacity to deliver social homes at scale. That often gets lost in our debate. Right up to 2011, home building in Ireland decreased by 96% and practically no homes were being built.
We can look again at the backdrop - I am at pains to point this out - which is that getting to an equilibrium is such a challenge because at that time, there were 3,000 ghost estates across the country and we were borrowing money at an interest rate of 14%. We were in an International Monetary Fund programme and two thirds of construction workers had left the State. When we accessed the markets midway through 2014, the rate was 14% so it was very difficult to deliver housing at scale. The local authority system was piloting mortgage to rent because the system was saturated with debt from unaffordable mortgages that had been given out.
The challenge was so great that every single year, the demand for housing increased despite the lack of capacity within the State. The objectives of the Land Development Agency will therefore be a game changer in the market because it will be able to operate in a countercyclical fashion. When the State is stressed, for example, it will be able to borrow on the market to raise its own funding and when there is stress in the market, we hope it will be able to use the State for funding. This is a better insurance policy for delivering housing to meet demand.
Senator Seery Kearney mentioned the housing need and demand assessment, which will be a major measure for detailing the type of housing needed for particular areas and the demand in a locality or community. It will give us key assistance in building sustainable communities in each area and it is important to have such data.
I do not want to make this a political matter.However, I will unapologetically stand up for the record of my party in government since I was first elected to the Dáil in 2016. Rebuilding Ireland not only hit its targets for social housing delivery every year from 2016 to 2020 but exceeded them. The big problem in the State was the fact the private sector was still not building each year. This presented a significant challenge because the State was shouldering the lion's share of delivering housing in this State and the figures back that up. I want to be very clear on that. Drafting the idea and intention of the LDA will prove to be a very considered and good policy choice for this country because it will deliver for all of society across all forms of tenures, from cost rental to affordable to social, giving certainty to many households and citizens who deserve that.
Some people try to blacklist developers. When you are talking about our 31 local authorities building houses, who builds those houses? The local authorities enter into a public works contract under procurement law and a builder in the private sector builds those homes. That is a fact. We need to work with the private sector to raise finance. I have made the point that over the next decade, our society will require a minimum of 350,000 new homes. The State cannot take the building of all those homes on its shoulders alone. It needs assistance to do that. In respect of the affordability measures in the Bill, a number of Senators have raised the issue of the minimum of 50%. When we put Part V together with that, it brings it up to 70%, so Members can see that the intention on behalf of the Government is very strong.
There is a significant amount of work to do with regard to Irish Water because the review of the national development plan is ongoing. I accept that a lot of development is held up because the infrastructure is not in place, but we have tried to change that in planning policy and through Project Ireland 2040. We have tried to ensure zoning and housing are aligned with key infrastructure. If we look around the different counties, as I have done, we can see that almost all local authorities have to increase their housing demand by 100% over the next six years. Nine local authorities have to go over 200%, so the challenge is huge. The zoning capacity is there to do that so now we must get on with the job and do the simple things well. That is very important. The issue of vacancy was raised as well in terms of the significant work we must do through our vacant homes offices in our 31 local authorities.
I took the Affordable Housing Bill in the Seanad last week. The Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, continued that today. I took amendments from the Opposition and I understand the Minister of State did so today as well because we are listening to the contributions and we value what this House has to offer. I am at pains to point this out. We look forward to working with Members throughout the period during which my ministerial colleagues and I are humbled to do this job. I thank everyone for their contributions.
I thank the Minister of State for his attendance and his very positive response to this debate. I thank my party for supporting this motion and its very kind words. I do not think I worked that hard at all but I will take the compliments. It is a real honour for all of us to serve in this House and it is a real honour for me to serve and to be part of the Fianna Fáil Party group within the Seanad. The reason I believe my colleagues were so committed to supporting this motion and this debate is not because they think this alone will solve the problem. They are not so deluded as to think the housing problem will be fixed with a motion like this. It is because it speaks to our core values as a republican party that believes in equality, including equality of opportunity. We understand the intrinsic and essential value of having a safe and secure place to call home from which to go to school, college, training or work, from which to progress in the world, and from which to reach your full potential as a human being and make your contribution to society. It is primarily for that reason that my colleagues support this motion. We believe there needs to be a public debate on this issue.We value our Constitution and would like to see a right to adequate housing enshrined in it.
I thank all of the Members for their contributions. I accept there is majority support for this motion. It is also very important to hear voices like those of Senator Craughwell, who is a reasonable man and has good intentions. He has serious and genuine concerns about this proposal and that is the challenge we face with this debate. We need to engage everybody in this debate from all sides.
I do not share the same respect or admiration for the cynical, divisive and destructive politics that was exposed and practised by Sinn Féin today. It is purely cynical to use this as a politicking and campaigning tool. Sinn Féin laments the housing crisis and decries people's inability to get a secure and affordable home, and yet, at every turn, it obstructs, delays and prevaricates. It is not serious about trying to address the housing crisis. It is only serious about using the housing crisis as a political tool to drive disadvantage and division. Its by-election candidate has not been seen for the 16 hours of Committee Stage debate on the Affordable Housing Bill. She was out the door and could not be seen for dust once she had her social media clip. We had hours of debate-----
I apologise. I really was not aware. Senator Warfield is correct. He was here and did put forward amendments. Those amendments were debated and the Minister of State, my party and other parties engaged in those debates. When the time came to vote on the actual Bill, the Opposition called a vote and Sinn Féin would not appoint tellers so its Members would not have to vote. That is what happened. It is on the record of this House. It exposes the cynical, divisive and destructive politics practised by Sinn Féin. We will not accept the Sinn Féin amendment. I would welcome a vote on it and we will call one and defeat that cynical and destructive amendment.
What motivated me, my party colleagues and I believe all colleagues from this Government side to engage in this debate was a wish seriously to bring this issue forward. I commend Home for Good. I commend everybody involved in that movement, but I also commend people like Brother Kevin Crowley, Sister Stanislaus Kennedy and all of the people who for decades have worked with those who are most disadvantaged and who most need people like us who are privileged in this House to lead this debate.
Garret Ahearn, Catherine Ardagh, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, , Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lisa Chambers, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Martin Conway, Emer Currie, Mark Daly, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, , Seán Kyne, John McGahon, Fiona O'Loughlin, Joe O'Reilly, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward.