I wish to share my time with Deputies Nolan, Brendan Smith, Seán Power, Killeen and Carey.
Private Members' Business. - Housing Crisis: Motion (Resumed).
An Leas-Cheann Comhairle
Is that agreed? Agreed.
Supply is the key to addressing pressures in the housing market and holding down house prices. Our focus continues to be on investing in infrastructure to bring more serviced land into use and to ensure its effective employment through residential density guidelines. These policies are having an effect because, since 1997, over 287,000 houses have been built nationally. Record levels of housing output are being delivered. The year 2002 was the eighth annual period of record housing output with over 57,000 completions, including significant increases in the Dublin area.
We are building houses at the highest level in Europe in relation to population. We will maintain the highest possible level of housing supply with the extension of the successful serviced land initiative, in addition to making more efficient use of housing land through, for example, higher density developments, and making further special development zone designations, as necessary.
At their peak in 1998, house prices were spiralling at an annual rate of 40%, but this has moderated significantly. Interim findings from a recent ESRI study on housing and social equity suggest that since 1994, mortgage expenditure relative to total household income has remained more or less stable. That trend is possibly attributable to a combination of rising incomes and falling interest rates, thus counterbalancing house prices. We must await final conclusions on the ESRI study, however.
The range of social and affordable housing measures has been greatly expanded and is now better targeted to assist low-income purchasers and those with social housing needs by increasing expenditure and output. Through the range of social and affordable housing schemes, we expect to meet the needs of some 12,000 households in 2003, compared to almost 8,700 households in 2000.
The focus of our spending on housing will be in response to the needs of the most vulnerable groups and low-income households, through targeted social and affordable housing programmes.
At end 2001, output under the local authority housing construction programme 2000-03 was just over 8,200 housing completions and acquisitions. Local authority housing completions for 2002 will be in excess of 5,000 – the highest level of completions for 16 years.
We are continuing to support the development of the voluntary and co-operative housing sector, which provided an estimated 1,400 units in 2002 – a record output for the sector. In the past three years, over 5,500 households have benefited under the shared ownership and affordable housing schemes. There has been significant progress in the affordable housing scheme in 2002, with an output of 800 units anticipated, compared to 272 in 2001.
Through the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2002, we have amended Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which deals with housing supply. Following a review of Part V, as set out in An Agreed Programme for Government, we have removed the rigidity which previously existed in the provision, in order to ensure a more efficient and effective system, thereby delivering a much higher volume of social and affordable housing.
We are committed to the reform and development of the private rented sector, enabling it to perform an enhanced role in meeting housing needs in a changing social and economic climate. The core element of policy is the implementation of recommendations in the report by the commission on the private rental sector, including reform legislation.
In February 2002, local authorities were directed to carry out an assessment of the need for social housing, which existed on 28 March 2002. The overall results indicate that as of 28 March 2002 a total of 48,413 households were in need of local authority housing, compared to 39,176 in March 1999. This represents an increase of 9,137 households or 23.5%.
Meeting housing demand continues to be one of the major challenges facing the Government. From replies that I have received to parliamentary questions, it is clear that the Government has succeeded in increasing the construction industry's capacity to provide private and local authority houses, over the past eight years. In 1992, local authority completions totalled 1,482 units, while last year there were 5,074 such completions. That represents a significant increase in the number of houses being provided by local authorities. Total house completions in 1993 were 21,391, while last year the figure had almost trebled to 57,695. Even at that rate of provision, however, the lack of house construction means that the cost of housing, particularly for first-time buyers, continues to remain high.
The Government has taken on a number of projects in order to reduce housing costs for first-time purchasers. I am pleased that local authorities have effectively withdrawn from providing individual housing loans, a role that has been taken over by the financial institutions. Some 12 years ago, local authorities were providing approximately 40% of housing loans but the figure has now fallen to around 3%. Only in rare circumstances do local authorities, such as my own one, provide loan funding for housing applicants. That is basically because the cost of borrowing is far cheaper through commercial banks and building societies. Local authorities continue to provide serviced land for house builders and purchasers, but the speed at which such land is being made available is not meeting current demand.
In recent years, rezoning has not been a popular word but I am pleased that local authorities have grasped the nettle and are continuing to rezone land for residential use. Most councils that have completed their five-year development plans, particularly in urban areas, have identified land that is suitable for residential construction. There is an onus on local authorities to provide land for residential use, as long as the demand is there.
At their peak in 1998, house prices were increasing at an annual rate of around 40%. Today, that figure has been significantly reduced, partly because the housing supply is slowly catching up on demand, although it has not yet reached that level. Housing output last year reached 57,000 completions, which means that the rate is growing to meet demand. When that happens, hopefully we will see some stabilisation in the rate of price increase, with perhaps a consequent reduction in the cost of housing at all levels.
The introduction of a range of social and affordable housing measures has greatly expanded the ability of individuals to acquire their own homes. Ireland has one of the highest rates of home ownership in Europe and I do not foresee any change in that. I commend the Minister of State and the Government on what they have done to promote housing construction both in the private and local authority sectors.
I am concerned about first-time house purchasers, however, because it is becoming ever more difficult for individuals to acquire their own homes, particularly in Dublin. We see people commuting to work in Dublin from as far away as Carlow, Wicklow and Athy. More affordable houses should be built in the larger urban areas, including Dublin.
Housing output is at its highest level ever, which is welcome, and the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Ahern, listed a number of interesting figures during his contribution last night. For example, €1.7 billion will be provided this year in capital funding for housing projects, which compares with investment of €442 million in 1997. Provision for housing, therefore, has increased fourfold. A number of weeks ago the other Minister of State at the Department, Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher, referred, at the opening of a housing scheme in my constituency, to the high quality housing being provided by local authorities. The schemes are well designed and the houses are well constructed. The schemes also contribute to a new generation of communities.
It is also welcome that in recent years local authorities have provided housing schemes in villages and towns that had not witnessed local authority activity for many years. Local authority housing programmes are helping to regenerate many areas that had been depopulated. The decision of the former Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, to provide funding for water and sewerage schemes in many towns and villages has enabled private developers and local authorities to build houses, which, in turn, has eased the pressure on housing in larger urban centres.
I am glad the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, outlined the substantial funding that has been provided over the past number of years for the disabled person's and essential repairs grant schemes. The expenditure on those schemes in 1996 amounted to €13 million whereas in 2002 expenditure had increased to €84 million. The schemes are worthwhile and their success is causing difficulty for a number of local authorities because of a major increase in demand for them.
Both schemes are administered by local authorities and they are of crucial importance as they have enabled the upgrading of many homes The disabled person's grant scheme has made a major positive contribution to the quality of life enjoyed by many elderly and disabled persons. The grant has enabled many disabled persons to continue to enjoy the comfort of their own homes with dignity and self-respect and the maximum attainable independence and it has also saved the State significant expenditure on hospital and residential places. The success of medical advances in extending the life expectancy of people with disabilities and the rehabilitation of accident victims has been a factor in the increasing demand for the grant. These people can return to the community rather than remaining in hospital.
Applications for essential repairs grants have increased enormously over the past three or four years and, in a number of local authorities, the number of applications received last year was six times the number received in 1999. Similar to the disabled person's grant scheme, the demand for this scheme has increased significantly because people are living longer and are more likely to be able to live in their own homes. The investment by the State in this scheme represents money well spent in the vast majority of cases, as it has precluded the need for higher expenditure that would have been required if people had to go on housing lists, etc.
It is necessary to refocus on the criteria that govern the processing and payment of the grants in order to continue the good work carried out under these schemes. I appeal to the Minister of State and his officials to ensure additional funding is provided to local authorities to speed up the processing and approval of applications under both schemes. They are extremely beneficial, particularly to the elderly and people with disabilities.
The motion has been debated in most households and public houses. Housing is one of the main topics we deal with, as public representatives, whether it is through assisting people with planning permission applications or seeking housing on their behalf. Regardless of which side of the fence we are on, we are all familiar with the problems experienced by people in need of housing.
No one denies provision of housing is a serious problem, despite the tremendous success of the economy and the major increase in housing supply over the past number of years. However, charges against the Government that it has not taken action do not stand up. While the price of houses increased dramatically during the late 1990s and in the early years of the new millennium, the rate of increase has slowed significantly this year.
A recent study of second-hand residential property in Dublin highlighted that between April and June this year, prices increased by 2.1% compared to 7.1% during the same period last year. That demonstrates how the market has slowed and major increases are a thing of the past. The average price of second-hand property in Dublin increased to €331,863 at the end of June compared to €325,108 at the end of March.
The Government has expended considerable time and energy studying the housing problem and getting involved. The Minister for Finance expressed a reluctance to interfere in the market some time ago. However, people asked him to take action, along with the Minister for the Environment and Local Government, to give first-time buyer's an opportunity. The Government took action and not long afterwards the same people asked the Minister for Finance to take action again to bring back investors. Both investors and private individuals must be involved in the housing market if it is to work properly.
However, there are no simple solutions to the housing problem. The Taoiseach has asked the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution to assess the possibility of placing a cap on the value of development land and I hope the committee can make recommendations in this regard in the near future. Local authorities made changes recently to the way they deal with county development plans. The introduction by the Minister of Finance of the provision that 20% of local authority housing schemes must contain social and affordable housing has helped to ease the problem.
For too long developers and landowners have made millions at the stroke of a pen and that cannot continue. They must be asked to make a contribution. It is one thing to supply land but necessary infrastructure must also be built. Landowners cannot be allowed to continue to provide land without making any other contribution other than paying capital gains tax. This issue must be tackled. It is every Member's wish that everybody should have an affordable dwelling and that should be our goal.
There is a great history of home ownership in Ireland but the significant increase in house prices over the past few years has made it extremely difficult for many young people. This, in turn, has resulted in an increase in the numbers applying for social and affordable housing. For example, earlier in my constituency keys were handed over for more than 50 local authority houses in Sallins. Unfortunately, because of my duties in the House I was unable to attend that happy occasion. The number of non-nationals who were included was interesting as that reflects the change taking place in Ireland. I hope people welcome this change with open arms so that we all embrace diversity, which will benefit us as a nation.
I wish to make an appeal to the Minister of State. I am concerned about work permits for people whose accommodation is being provided. I am concerned that there is serious overcrowding and that these people are being abused and over-charged for accommodation. I ask the Minister to have the matter examined.
The Minister pointed out last night that last year was the eighth year in a row when a record number of new houses were built. Some 57,695 housing units were built last year, which represents 14.7 units per 1,000 population, as opposed to the UK construction rate of three units per 1,000 population. It is almost five times the UK rate. People who have looked at the difficulties in the housing market over a long number of years almost all concluded that the key to the resolution of the difficulty is supply. This has been addressed at record levels in over eight years.
On affordability, the cost of the house is not the only problem. People who are currently buying houses are enjoying historically low interest rates on their mortgages. This contributes positively to the affordability front. Thankfully, there is also a very high employment rate and a historically low income tax rate, all of which contribute to the affordability of houses.
The national development plan states that an additional 500,000 houses will be required in the ten years up to 2010. There is an urgent need for the Government to be prepared to change, as it has been, to ensure we avoid the mid-1980s collapse in house prices, which was devastating and contributed in no small way to the difficulties in recent years. There were considerable improvements in 1988 to the shared ownership scheme. This enabled many people who prior to that could not have aspired to owning their own houses to do so. The impact of Part V, as amended, will be very beneficial from the point of view of first-time buyers. The 1,700 units in the shared ownership scheme last year will be increased each year.
There is also considerable success arising from the serviced land initiative but there is ongoing difficulty in relation to the cost of building land. I am pleased that the All-Party Committee on the Constitution is looking at the possibility of capping the price of land. The price of land has caused difficulty in housing and equally in national infrastructure projects. It is one area where dramatic progress can be made.
In 1999, the Fitzgerald report found that there is a massive shift in household size. This study concentrated on Dublin but the results appear to be reflected nationally. It found that during a period of ten years to 1996, when Dublin's population grew by 4%, the number of households grew by 18%. On the basis of these figures, Dublin would need 150,000 units within ten years. On the basis of more recent studies, the likelihood is that has increased.
The McCabe, O'Rourke and Fleming report of 1999 led to guidelines on residential density. In the same year the Government acted by introducing the guidelines, as it did with the Bacon report recommendations on two occasions. The speed with which they were adopted contrasts with the tardiness on previous occasions.
The National Economic and Social Council has reported on several occasions on the housing situation. In its 1996 strategy for the 21st century it projected a modest 36,000 units per year for ten years. That had changed dramatically in the Opportunities, Challenges and Capacity for Choice report of 1999. The report stated in relation to new house grants that house purchase grants boost the spending power of buyers. At a time of housing shortages, when buyers are competing against one another for the limited supply of houses, prices are driven up, thereby passing much of the benefit to the vendor rather than the purchaser. Incidentally, quite a few people opposite, including some people who signed the motion, were very strongly of the same view in debates of this nature in previous times.
Reports on the housing market by John Blackwell in 1988 and DKM Consultants in 1989, highlighted the falling house prices and the dramatic reduction in the numbers being built. This was in the context of high interest rates and negative equity in some cases. At the time DKM forecast that the depressed market of the 1982-87 period left significant scope for house price inflation, which was correct. Many other difficulties have arisen. There are major bottlenecks in the planning system. Some progress has been made in that regard but not as much as required.
I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on this matter. It is similar to a debate last week or the previous week. Deputy Timmins of Fine Gael said on 7 February 2002 that if he were the Minister responsible for housing he would abolish the housing grant because it is clear that the grant, which is for first-time buyers, goes straight to builders. On 28 February 2001 he said that his colleague called for the extension of the first-time buyer's grant, which should be abolished. The grant was introduced in 1987 as a boost to the building trade, not house buyers. On 3 February 1999, Deputy Flanagan said that it seemed the first-time buyer's grant and the reduction of stamp duty had merely added to the cost of houses and, through competition, the apparent savings for the average couple pushed up house prices rather than helping to subsidise their cost. An increased supply of houses is the only answer to this problem. They were not the only Members who spoke.
Prior to the last election, the Green Party published a housing policy. One of its proposals was that the use of grants and subsidies for people acquiring accommodation should be equal for all types of accommodation and housing users. This would mean, among other things, an evaluation of whether these subsidies are real aids or end up being added to the purchasing prices of houses, giving no real benefit to house buyers, particularly first time buyers of new houses. Everyone is concerned about the housing issue but I am afraid everyone is saying it is everyone else's problem.
Prior to the last election, Fine Gael proposed to introduce a bonus scheme for first time buyers. They also proposed to introduce the €1 for €3 deposit plan, whereby the State would give savers €1 for every €3 euro deposited. This is part of the "on the hoof" economics that, unfortunately, the Fine Gael Party has been trumpeting. The Telecom shareholders and taxi drivers were going to be compensated.
Plenty trumpets over there.
I am pleased Deputy Durkan has come back into the House to listen to the contributions. The Labour Party – there is no one here from the Labour Party – complained we were building houses but we were not building them in the right places. As usual with the Labour Party, it made no attempt to cost their proposals.
Of course, there are issues in relation to housing. One of the few areas tackled sensibly is housing supply. The housing supply can only be addressed by the private sector, working together with new initiatives by local authorities, voluntary housing agencies and housing co-operatives. I will not recite the statistics for the benefit of the House because the Minister did it last night and my colleagues did it earlier. The serviced land initiative was introduced in the Pelletstown area of Dublin, with the help of the Fine Gael Party. Despite opposition from the Green Party, among others, land was rezoned at Pelletstown and 4,000 homes will be built there under the serviced land initiative. As Deputy McGrath will be aware, the Baldoyle fringe is another example of the serviced land initiative which will make a huge difference. We are talking about sustainable development. The Pelletstown scheme is beside the railway.
I hope landlords will not buy them.
I want to home in on the affordable housing initiatives and what is being done by Tógáil Developments in Dublin City Council. For example, last week we handed over to 60 first time buyers their houses, ranging in price from €138,500 to €162,000 for a good quality, first time buyer's house. That will be replicated in Scribblestown Lane. It is being replicated in Ballymun, Cherry Orchard, Blanchardstown and Swords.
That is with the subsidy.
Of course. A subsidy is in-built and is implied in the Government proposals.
I will show Deputy Carey those who did not get it.
It addresses supply. The traditional waiting list method, waiting for the local authority to build houses, will not solve the problem. Homelessness is a multi-faceted issue which is being handled well by the Government. There are a variety of initiatives in place including wet hostels, which I would like to see developed in other parts of the country.
Deputy Carey should wait for what I have to say.
I commend the Minister on the policies being implemented and I look forward to positive proposals from the Opposition if and when some of them bother to come into the House.
I am sharing my time with Deputies Morgan, Connolly and Finian McGrath. On behalf of the Green Party I thank Deputy Carey for acknowledging Green Party policy on housing and I will respond to his offer to put forward a number of measures and proposals for a mature debate on this. We can then focus on those in need of housing. In that regard I welcome this Fine Gael motion, which gives us an opportunity to discuss the crisis in housing. We in the Green Party also raised this in our Private Members' time by publishing the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2003.
That was a focused attempt to address a serious underlying problem in the price of housing, which is as important as supply and availability. The Fine Gael motion points this out also. For those who did not hear that debate it is important to bear in mind that it is not just a Green Party proposal but is shared by other agencies dealing with poverty, housing and social justice. It aims at ensuring local authorities are given the power to purchase land and that land in their ownership alone shall be zoned for residential housing. We can then remove the temptation and greed that has permeated the planning process as a result of the huge profits made by those who own land, particularly through land speculation.
When referring to the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, it is important to bear in mind that the Constitution is quite flexible and inclusive when it comes to the rights to private property. Under Article 43 the State:
. . . guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath, and inherit property.
2. 1º The State recognises, however, that the exercise of the rights mentioned in the foregoing provisions of this Article ought, in civil society, to be regulated by the principles of social justice.
2º The State, accordingly, may as occasion requires delimit by law the exercise of the said rights with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good.
If we are talking about being regulated by the principles of social justice, how much social justice does the Government need to be aware of before it takes action without waiting for the All-Party Committee to do something? According to expert legal opinion heard by that committee, the Constitution already contains social justice provisions which allow the Government to take actions such as reducing stamp duty to allow people whose families have grown up to downsize to a smaller house, thus allowing new families to take up residence in traditional suburbs where they have facilities such as schools and shops available. The Government could extend stamp duty exemptions on new properties to second hand houses also and improve tenant rights. There has been some movement in that regard but in European terms we do not have equality for citizens who rent as opposed to those who own property. Renting is therefore seen as something for second class citizens, with people aspiring to become owner-occupiers.
We also need to claw back the tax breaks for property investors who are making a huge killing thanks to the Government and its friends, who tend to circulate among such wealthy property investors. Proper insulation is also needed, as the built housing stock is one of our greatest opportunities to save on energy and address our Kyoto obligations. Less energy intensive production, such as that practised in the UK by the Association for Environment Conscious Building, is a real issue.
It may be four years or more before the All-Party Committee on the Constitution reports on the issue of private property, so we should not hold our breath. The Government has stood by for six years as the housing crisis has spiralled out of control. The bombastic Minister and his bumbling sidekick as Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, do not inspire confidence in me. The speech of the Minister of State here last night was genuinely worrying. We can have no hope for a resolution of the crisis if the person with responsibility for the area is all but refusing to accept there is a crisis.
Whenever we raise this issue all we hear from the Minister and his Ministers of State is the endless quoting of statistics. Has the Minister no idea of what it is to be affected by the housing crisis? Does he have any idea of what it means to be a young couple living in private rented accommodation? They are haunted by the knowledge that they will never be able to afford their own home and that they are not eligible for social housing. The Government will not ensure security of tenure for them in the private sector and if their landlord does not allow children, when they have a family they will struggle to find a private sector landlord who will accept them as tenants. Does the Minister have any idea what it is like for workers who have to commute from satellite towns? They have been exiled to such towns by the lack of affordable housing in our main cities. The hours spent commuting – probably driving in gridlock – mean leaving early in the morning and getting home late at night, so these commuters never see their children. These are lives of drudgery which have to be borne for the next 30 to 40 years, like the mortgages they will probably never pay off.
What about those who in their old age find their ground rent leases have expired and who struggle to hold on to the family home? Imagine the plight of the pensioner faced with a demand from the ground rent landlord for €54,000 for freehold interest plus legal fees of €127 per day until the agreement is reached. That pensioner, who sees the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as someone who spoke out vociferously for the abolition of ground rents in Opposition, faces a lonely battle to save his or her home. He or she sees that the Minister has done nothing to address the scandalous issue of ground rents.
There is a lost generation of Irish people whose lives are an endless struggle because the Government refuses to recognise their right to housing, refuses to control land prices, refuses to take on the speculators and refuses to provide adequate levels of social and affordable housing.
Is there anything I can say that will make the Minister understand the human tragedy and misery that is caused by his failure to address the housing crisis? The fundamental role of a house and home in a person's life cannot be overstated. A lack of adequate housing and homelessness are inextricably connected to increased levels of mental illness, marginalisation and disenfranchisement. The failure to address this crisis has led to a severe decline in the quality of life of our citizens.
Last night the Minister of State told us there was more to housing than price and he went on to tell us it is about affordability. It was clever of him to finally grasp the kernel of the problem – affordability – but he seems not to accept that those on low and medium incomes can no longer afford to buy a house. The rise in house prices continues unabated and the Minister of State's assertions will ring hollow with anyone who takes even a cursory look in the window of their local estate agent only to find there is not a house they can afford. Quite simply, house prices are out of control.
The most outrageous statement which emanated from the Minister of State last night was his assertion that the Government has a proud record of achievement in delivering housing across the broad spectrum of housing needs. I dare the Minister of State to repeat this gem of Fianna Fáil propaganda to any citizen who is struggling to buy a house, who is trying to retain their private rented accommodation or, worse still, who is sleeping on the street.
The current housing crisis is unprecedented in our country's history. There is in excess of 52,000 families on local authority waiting lists. That represents a doubling in the number from the 1991 to 2001 figure. What is the Government's strategy to deal with that? The Government has asked us what our strategy is, but I would like to know its strategy. The real nature of development during the so-called "Celtic tiger" economy becomes starkly clear when one considers the paltry number of local authority houses built during the time the Celtic tiger was supposed to have been roaring. Last year 4,403 new homes were built. That represents merely a scratch on the surface. If we hark back to 40 years ago, 25,000 new houses were built per year. In a four year period, 110,000 houses were built. We were literally looking for people to move into these houses. We are a long way behind those figures now.
The 52,000 families on the waiting lists represent a massive catalogue of human misery. We hear the graphic stories of overcrowding, illness in children, unemployment, people sleeping in vans and people sleeping on the streets. Poor housing and child illness often go hand in hand. People are more vulnerable to medical conditions such as asthma and they need inhalers as a result of the damp conditions in which they live. Parents also suffer from such illnesses and there is a medical and social cost attaching to that.
There is a growing number of people, dual income earners, who simply cannot afford to buy a house. Not so long ago, a good income earner could buy a house. In latter years, double income earners could afford to buy quite a nice house, but now they cannot afford to buy a house or to start a family. Yet opportunistic speculators can afford to buy up to ten houses off the plans. When the houses are ready, they sell them and cream off a massive profit. At times, they cream off between €20,000 to €30,000 simply as a result of putting down a deposit on a house. We must address this issue because it is adding fuel to the price of houses.
With the emphasis on balanced regional development in the National Spatial Strategy and in the Government's policy of decentralisation, it is an ideal pretext for the Government to decentralise offices to towns such as Cavan and Monaghan. It would provide a catalyst for future economic regeneration in these areas. Much of this problem, particularly in Dublin, could be solved in this way. Let the National Spatial Strategy kick in and let us start to decentralise. The much heralded National Spatial Strategy, the successor to the Buchanan report of more than 40 years ago, has the potential to complete what Buchanan recommended, namely, the development of major growth centres around Ireland. Such decentralisation would represent a population shift away from Dublin to the regions and it would be a reverse of what happened in the 1960s and 1970s when people flooded into Dublin.
It has been estimated that it would take about €3.2 billion to clear the housing list. Even with the massive increase in housing during the years of the tiger economy, local authority housing lists could have been eliminated if a mere 10% of the surplus had been used towards housing. Another cause of the housing crisis is that land is in short supply to local authorities. The adoption of the 1970s Kenny report on building land would go a long way towards bringing down house prices and rents. Kenny's recommendation of a cap on building lands, namely, agricultural land plus 10%, would represent the greatest single factor in controlling the price of building land and, consequently, making it available for house construction at a reasonable cost. Kenny was also in favour of a social housing component in new housing developments. I often wonder how many of today's houses would qualify for a certificate of reasonable value which was a requirement for new houses built in the 1960s and 1970s.
I support this motion because of parts three, four and five which are priority issues on my political agenda. I am talking about the 52,726 families on the waiting lists for local authority housing, while only 4,403 units were completed last year. I am also raising the disgraceful lengthy waiting lists for the disabled person's housing grant and the 5,581 homeless people on the housing lists. Many of us believe this figure is much higher because of the drugs problem and the fact there are more than 14,000 addicts in Ireland. Listening to Deputy Carey earlier, I thought he must have come from a different planet given some of the views he expressed. Whatever about having different political views on issues, cooking the figures to hide the reality is not, and should never be, an option in public life. We need accurate information and figures in order to resolve the issues and come up with solutions. When we look at the three core issues of this motion, it is important not to give up as there are ways to solve these issues.
In regard to the housing crisis, yesterday we saw the demand for residential mortgages rise by 24%. Many people cannot even afford to move into that bracket. This is a major national problem and we need radical solutions. We cannot have a situation where 52,726 families are on waiting lists while this Government only builds 4,403 units. If that happened in any other country in Europe, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister of State with responsibility for housing would be sacked. Let us not get away from this image of the bin tax Minister, Deputy Cullen solving major national problems. It is all spin with no real substance.
The Government must wake up to the reality that there is a major housing crisis and it must build houses. It was done in the past when there were much fewer resources. We urgently need a national housing agency to reduce the bottlenecks in the housing market and planning system. I strongly support the constructive proposal in this motion that the proceeds of lands or lands themselves be used for the construction of social housing. We must target the most vulnerable to give them a leg up into mainstream society. Most Deputies deal with many of these sad cases in their clinics and constituency offices on a daily basis. The Minister is well aware of this sad reality and he must do something about their plight.
If we are to ever seriously think about doing something sensible to assist the disadvantaged in our community, housing must be part of that strategy. Families, particularly children, need stability in their lives and the importance of a family home should not be under estimated. Our disastrous housing problem is leading to more poverty and disadvantage, particularly educational disadvantage. The Minister can introduce all the schemes in the world but if families are not housed in proper accommodation, those schemes will not have any impact on educational disadvantage. This is the reality I know well as an ex full-time worker with the Simon Community and as an ex inner city teacher.
I commend and thank all the voluntary groups working with and supporting the homeless, including groups like the Simon Community, Focus Ireland, Threshold, Centre Care and Crosscare whose figures yesterday showed the number of homeless using their centres growing by 32%. These organisations are doing a great job against the odds. It is up to us, as legislators, to support them and it is up to the Government to deliver.
In relation to the disabled and the lengthy waiting list for housing grants, I demand the publication of the promised review of the disabled person's housing grant scheme and related schemes as we cannot allow a situation to continue on foot of Government cutbacks which is forcing the elderly and disabled people to go without essential services such as downstairs toilets, stair lifts and showers.
It is a crime against humanity to allow this situation to develop, and I am now calling for action. We have just come out of the Special Olympics World Summer Games 2003, which has brought a breath of fresh air to this country, and we are gradually moving towards a more inclusive society. However, all of these great activities and the work of the 30,000 volunteers will be hollow if we do not act and do something for all our people with disabilities. I urge everyone to support this motion. This motion has vision, it shows the future and attempts to address the fundamental injustice in our country, and I urge everyone to support it.
I wish to share time with Deputies Crawford, Connaughton and Ring. I only have five minutes so I will try to be constructive as well being as somewhat critical of the Government's performance to date in two key areas that I want to outline.
The first relates to staged payments. For quite some time, the charging of staged payments for house buyers has not been a common practice in Dublin, but it is still very much commonplace in a number of regions. In areas like Cork, Limerick, Kerry, Waterford and Sligo, as well as others, builders and developers still charge buyers through the form of staged payments. In many cases, house buyers have paid up to 90% of the cost of a home before taking possession of it. It is an unacceptable situation and the Government, year after year, refuses to take any action to outlaw staged payments to purchase a house.
The Law Society has been campaigning on this issue for some time and has gone so far as to send a sample Bill to the Minister and his Department to try to get some movement on this issue. It is awaiting a response. Staged payments benefit nobody except the builder and developer. There was some case for staged payments in the past, when interest rates and when financing the building of a house was a big issue, particularly for small builders. They needed some assistance in financing the building of a house, and to facilitate that they charged the purchaser in staged payments over a period of time. Thus, as they built the house they also got the materials paid for.
There is no longer any excuse for allowing builders to charge house buyers by a staged payments route because money is now so cheap. Most developers who are building small or large scale developments can borrow money at almost 2% now from the banks. The argument of needing the house buyer to help finance the physical building of the house and the materials is no longer valid. The fact that a house buyer would need to front up to 90% or even more of the cost of that house is totally unacceptable in modern Ireland. The Government needs to take action but instead it has ignored the problem totally.
Buyers now carry the burden in many places for the cost of building. I know this well because it is very much still a practice in Cork. At the same time, they carry the burden for renting accommodation while they are waiting for the house to be finished. This is making a much more complicated situation out of what should be a fairly simple and straightforward process of trying to access a mortgage.
What if a builder goes bust half or three quarters of the way through the building of a development? If house buyers had been paying through staged payments, they will have the site of the house, perhaps, on contract but they will have no house completed on it. Yet they may have paid up to 80% of the cost of that house.
It is unacceptable for the Government to refuse to budge on this issue. It is possible to introduce amending legislation to outlaw staged payments. We cannot rely on the goodwill of developers and the CIF to voluntarily not indulge in the practice of staged payments, so the Government needs to move on this and I urge it to do so at the first possible opportunity in the autumn.
As I only have a minute left, I will make a quick point on the disabled person's and essential repairs grants. In Cork County Council, there are €5 million worth of applications for disabled person's and essential repairs grants awaiting approval. Some €8.2 million has been approved and €2.12 million has been paid so far out of an allocation of €6 million. That is a shortfall of almost €12 million in County Cork for this scheme this year. That is an unacceptable situation.
I congratulate Deputy Allen and my colleagues for bringing forward this very important motion. It is vital that we have discussion such as this because of the crisis in the housing industry. One only has to go out on the streets at night to find people young and old sleeping out on the streets. I know we never saw the Celtic tiger in rural areas to the same extent as in Dublin, but to see so many actually sleeping on the streets is serious.
We have a new situation in that we have many more single parents and homes divided through family difficulties, broken marriages and so on. We have to take those things into account. One group I want to mention specifically are single people, whether male or female, who are left outside the family. They find it very difficult to be considered for housing. I have met many males in particular trying in desperation to get the opportunity to be housed because their family homes have been left to their partners. Very often, this is not a result of a cantankerous situation but of a really difficult problem so that they can no longer live together.
I had one example where spouses were being asked to sign a document saying they no longer wanted local authority housing if they were to go ahead with their divorce and so on. These are some of the things that are totally unacceptable in this day and age. We treat those who come here from other countries with reason and we have to treat our own with reason as well.
The Government talks about all the money available for housing and how much it has increased over the past six years. I just cite the example of one house in my own town of Monaghan. It cost £86,000 to build just seven years ago. A couple of years later it was sold for £140,000. Two years ago it was sold for £260,000. The demand for housing in an area of scarce resources is driving the price of houses up enormously. That is partly because of the problem with sewerage. We had a scheme announced for election purposes that would introduce a special serviced land initiative. That was a couple of years ago and we have still not seen the scheme.
There are many sites around Monaghan Town, for instance, waiting to be built on but they cannot be touched because of the lack of services. If we are to treat this problem seriously we have to make sure services are available, regardless of whether the houses are built by the private or public sectors.
The other issue on which I want to spend a minute is that of disability and essential repairs grants. These have been tremendous services. I know the Minister argued last night that the expenditure figure had gone up enormously, but again it has gone up because of pricing structures. It is hard to get builders to get involved in some of these smaller schemes but they belong to those who are worst off. They are being brought forward for the elderly or the disabled. People cannot get an essential repairs grant unless they are disabled or over a certain age, and we need to ensure that funds are available for those types of grants. The local authority in County Monaghan still has some funds in that area because its members spent long nights discussing this issue before deciding on its budget.
I have seen letters sent to constituents in the other part of my constituency in Cavan on a continual basis indicating that their applications are being put on hold or have been refused. I read one letter which indicated that a grant has been approved but could not be drawn down until funds become available. That grant was sought for a 95 year old who desperately needs a downstairs toilet and facilities. I advise the Minister of State that we can all talk about figures.
I had a discussion with the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, the other day regarding the once off housing issue in rural areas. I urge the Departments of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to work together to ensure that proper guidelines are drawn up to properly maintain rural areas. There is no point in having the CLÁR programme unless people can build houses, not in a haphazard but in a structured way in rural areas.
I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Allen, on introducing this motion. Of the 52,000 families who do not have a house, 1,100 live in County Galway and 1,300 live in Galway Corporation area, making up almost 2,500 families in Galway. In the Galway County Council area we managed to house 150 families last year. At that rate, people who are seeking a house this year will get a house in 2011.
I want to address the question of the Government side-stepping this issue. It has all but withdrawn another large subsidy from the housing market. We all know what it did in regard to the first-time buyer's grant, but it has now withdrawn almost everywhere in the country the subsidy for affordable housing. I was delighted and intrigued to hear Deputy Carey say earlier that there was a fine housing project somewhere in County Dublin where affordable houses were sold for €133,000 per house. According to a reply to a parliamentary question I received an hour ago, I learned that because houses in a housing project in Portumna cost €125,000 each the authority could not give a subsidy and, in regard to a housing project in Knocknacarrra, the authority thought that people would be able to buy the houses without a subsidy. Am I to take it that the subsidy for affordable housing is only available to people purchasing such houses in Dublin city, given that people cannot get the subsidy in Galway city or county? We know that the subsidy was as high as €25,000. Why is it that people down the country on low incomes are not entitled to a bite of the cherry?
The senior Minister told us for years that affordable housing was an important vehicle to allow people on low incomes to own their own homes. Why can people in Dublin get this subsidy when people in County Galway cannot? Another part of the reply to the parliamentary question to which I referred indicated that the maximum amount of a loan given by a local authority is €130,000 and that, as an applicant can get that amount of a loan, this subsidy will not be granted.
I will remind the Minister of State of the people who can get a loan for €130,000, which is what is important. The rate of interest on a loan given by the local authority in County Galway is 4.12%. On a loan of €130,000 over 25 years, a couple would have to pay back €719 per month. If such a couple were granted the subsidy, which would reduce their loan to nearly €100,000, they would have to pay only €553 per month. The difference between the two repayments is €166 per month, which works out at a little more than €40 per week. That is more than what people pay in rent for a county council house. Once-off local authority houses built in County Galway cost approximately €100,000. That involves a direct payment by the State. Why will the Minister not give people who purchase such houses the subsidy which is granted to people who purchase similar houses in Dublin? The Minister should grant the subsidy to people in the country to allow them to own their own house. Such housing involves no maintenance costs or messing around with payments for the State. If ever there was an opening to allow families to own their own houses, this is it.
Why does the senior Minister not come out openly and say that this particular subsidy is all but withdrawn from everywhere except Dublin? I would not have known the lower figure for such housing if Deputy Carey, for whom I have great time, had not informed Members earlier that such houses were sold for €133,000. I hope it is not case that people who live outside Dublin city are being penalised in this area on top of everything else.
I compliment my colleague, Deputy Allen, on introducing this motion. I have no doubt that when he is Minister with responsibility for the environment he will deal with this problem in a serious manner. We would have no shortage of houses if spin could build. I listened for years to spin from the Government spin doctors telling the people how many houses the Government would build on a yearly basis and lists were issued every week. I thought we would never see a shortage of houses again, but it was all spin. The only people to whom the Government talks and listens are the builders and, by God, they have a hold of Fianna Fáil and the Government. Vested interests are involved in housing. Builders are buying land in every part of the country, even in areas not zoned for development in order that they will have total control over the land into the future. They will decide what housing will be built, at what price it will be sold and who can buy it.
There are other vested interests who are also builders. They are friends of Fianna Fáil. They build flats and houses and rent them out to Joe Soap and the taxpayer has to pay €300 million for such accommodation. That is what the health boards pay every year in rent subsidy, but the big builders get that money because they control the property.
The time has come for local authorities to be given the necessary powers and resources to buy land and compete with the big builders. They could allow the big builders to buy land, but could ensure that planning permission would not be granted unless they could get the field beside the proposed development to build local authority housing. Drastic action must be taken on housing. The builders have become more powerful and they are on the inside track with the Government. They can call to the tents on racing day in Galway and determine housing policy. That must stop. We must put the necessary resources into housing and give the county managers and councils adequate powers.
Saddam Hussein was decommissioned in Iraq a few weeks ago, but we have a bigger dictatorship on the opposite side of the House, which is taking away the powers of the elected members to local authorities. They are taking elected members out of local authorities. It is a case of giving power to everybody but the elected members.
The greatest scandal of all is the matter of the disabled person's grant. A woman from Lahardaun called to my clinic seeking a disabled person's grant for her mother who was at home. That woman was told by the local authority that the money was gone for this year. I checked the position with the local authority and was told that it could be 18 months before that this woman's application is dealt with. Is that not a disgrace at a time when we have so much money and the Government intends to spend €500 million on Government jets next year? It could find the money for the Government jets, but why can this woman not be given a disabled person's grant? Why did her daughter have to come into my clinic from Lahardaun and cry in front of me because she is depending on a portion of a disabled person's grant? The first-time buyer's grant was removed. The health boards cannot deal with the special housing aid for the elderly because they do not have the necessary resources or support from the State. The time has come when we must make a commitment to people in need of housing, to those who need the disabled person's grant and to the elderly.
This evening was a beautiful evening. I walked up the street a short time ago and I saw an elderly gentleman lying in a doorway. Is that the sign of a civilised society? It is not. If there were proper homes and care that would not happen in this country. The Minister and his officials need only walk outside Dáil Éireann and they will see that person.
The spinners in the Department should stop their spinning and put the money into the disabled person's grant and into housing. The people of this country should be housed and the builders who have total control of the land, the Department and the Government, should be wiped out.
This Government has a coherent and credible housing strategy which is designed to increase housing supply, to improve access to housing for lower income groups and to improve the housing conditions of local authority tenants and other key groups such as the elderly, homeless persons and the disabled. Nothing that has emanated from the other side of the House has discredited this fact. I will deal with the ERGs and DPGs in due course. By bringing forward this motion, it seems that Fine Gael want the Government to reverse its policies which have yielded record levels of housing output.
We are all aware of the pressures in the housing market. Recent population and economic growth and particularly changing household formation patterns have seen household size rapidly converge towards EU norms. This Government's consistent overall approach to the housing issue has led to record levels of housing output. Since 1997 over 280,000 new houses have been built. Some 57,695 houses were built in 2002, the eighth consecutive record year of housing output. Indications suggest that this figure can again be surpassed in 2003. We are building at the fastest rate in Europe per head of population. We need to continue to do so to ensure that our young population can aspire to home ownership or seek rented accommodation whether in the private or social housing sector. Increasing supply is and must remain the main objective of the Government's housing strategy. It was suggested that only 4,400 local authority houses were built last year. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, indicated that output from various social housing measures met the needs of over 12,700 households on the waiting list.
Given the collective amnesia of the Fine Gael Party, which always seems to set in when it brings forward a motion on housing, it will be difficult for it to remember that it was never easy to buy one's first house. However, due to our efforts in increasing housing supply, a greater number of people than ever before are realising their dream of buying their first home. My colleague, Deputy Noel Ahern, stressed last night that the affordability of the housing provided is key. Factors such as increases in disposable incomes, low mortgage interest rates and favourable taxation rates are in sharp contrast with the rates that applied when Fine Gael was in power.
Is the Minister of State suggesting that his party brought down the interest rates? Is he claiming the credit for that?
I will deal with Deputy Allen's proposal. We created an economic atmosphere in this country that no Government had ever created previously.
The Minister of State is correct about that.
It is Fine Gael policy to take away the powers from local authorities.
It is the Minister of State's side of the House that took them away.
Deputy Allen called for the establishment of a national housing authority.
The Minister of State should not misrepresent us.
The Deputy does not want to listen to the facts. Has he or the Fine Gael Party given any thought to what such an agency would involve? All social housing programmes are essentially local and local authorities are best placed to assess local needs and to determine the scope of house-building programmes. The idea of having a national housing authority controlling and deciding where houses would be built in every part of the country is of very questionable wisdom.
There is no basis for Deputy Gilmore's claim that because the Bill would not be enacted until the autumn, landowners would have an additional opportunity to evict tenants and increase rents. More seriously, however, there is a danger that this sort of misinformation could create irrational fears on the part of both landlords and tenants. The fact that someone like Deputy Gilmore got this matter so wrong underlines the need to give people a good opportunity to study and understand this legislation.
The Bill proposes to update the legislative framework for the private rented sector, providing added protection for tenants, particularly in terms of rent reviews and security of tenure. There has been much debate about ERGs and DPGs. The Deputies opposite will remember that in 1994 when they were in Government, the total allocation for DPGs was £31 million
That was the Minister of State's side's budget in 1994.
It was not a good idea.
The other side did not increase it. In 2002, there was a record level of €56 million allocated. In 1995, Donegal received £387,000 as against €6 million this year, a fact I wish to bring to the notice of my colleague, Deputy McGinley, who is not present. We have a proud record. We are delivering on housing. Nothing that the Opposition has said in the debate has taken any of the gloss off our achievements. I am happy to commend the amendment to the House.
I wish to thank my colleague, Deputy Allen, for putting down this Private Members' motion. Deputy Carey has left the Chamber. He complained about there being no Opposition Members in the Chamber even though they outnumbered those on the Government side. He left immediately after his contribution and did not even wait for the next speaker. I wish to remind him of what were the Government's priorities in housing since he cited figures from former Members of this House. The Government's priorities were to increase first-time buyer's grants to €6,550 for a couple, to accelerate the supply of new houses and to control the rise in house prices. There were about ten points which have all fallen by the wayside since this Government came to office. It is quite easy to cite figures from the past. We must now deal with the reality of the present.
The Government has failed in other areas and its failure in the area of housing has been spectacular. There are almost 53,000 people on housing waiting lists. The Members on the other side of the House praised the building of 4,500 local authority houses last year. It would take 12 years to clear the current waiting lists if nobody else went on it in the next 12 years. That is the reality of where the Government has taken the people. There should not be any more of this "We did this", "We did that" or "We put more money into housing", because it does not stand up.
The rocketing cost of new houses means that it is now impossible for any young couple to purchase a house. In 1998, 45% of houses cost less than £120,000. Today only 1% of houses being built cost less than €120,000. The Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, imposed another severe penalty on first-time buyers when he abolished the first-time buyer's grant. Despite the fact that the Government said it increased it to €6,500, he abolished it with one stroke of the pen, without warning anybody before the election. We never heard of this before the election. That alone cost first-time buyers about €3,800, almost €4,000. The 1% increase in VAT which he introduced the day or the week after the budget, put another €2,000 on to the average cost of a house. This Government has done nothing to control the spiralling cost of insurance and builders' insurance has put another €2,000 or €3,000 on to the price of a house. The price of a house is beyond the reach of the ordinary couple trying to buy a house. We in the Opposition are not responsible for that; the Government and the Ministers concerned must take responsibility.
The most vulnerable section of our community is being treated shamefully. I do not want the Minister telling me how much money has been allocated because that will not wash anymore. Most of the money allocated was for last year's grants. Those grants were sanctioned before the election when everything could be sanctioned because the Government wanted to give the impression that the last five years were going to continue forever.
Before the election it was spend, spend, spend, and since the election it is cut, cut, cut. It is unreal to be talking about that. Some local authorities are being honest about this and telling the people. Deputy McGinley articulated this point very well last night. I noticed the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gallagher, in the Public Gallery at the time when Deputy McGinley was articulating the situation in the Minister of State's own county of Donegal, where 600 letters went out to people telling them not to go ahead with work already approved, because there was no money for it. Even those who had the work done, as a lot of people did, could not be paid. That is in the Minister of State's own county, Donegal. He did not refer to that.
The letters went out.
That was more honest than what is happening in other counties. In other local authority areas they are not telling the people. They pretend they are dealing with the applications. They are stalling them in every way. They take longer to estimate the costs and to examine applications. In some local authorities they are now looking for a higher percentage of the cost, and paying only 75% of the costs. When people eventually get grant approval, they find they are not able to raise the 25%, or whatever percentage between 10% and 25% is being asked.
How can a disabled person on a disabled person's pension, on social welfare, afford this? If repairs, for example, were to cost €24,000, how can a disabled person afford €6,000? The application simply dies and the Government does not have to pay out any money. That is what is being achieved.
In other local authority areas, priorities are being established. There is priority one and priority two. Very few people are put on priority one. Their cases might be looked at sometime. Others, on whose behalf Deputy Connaughton, for example, might inquire, are told they are on priority two, and priority two cases will never be looked after. That is the reality. People are being deceived, but will not be deceived any longer. The Minister of State might as well come clean and tell the people what the situation is.
Moreover, when money is provided to local authorities, they have to put up one third of the grant allowance. That is crippling some cash-starved local authorities. They are not able to raise the money, so they have to stall the grants until the money comes in the following year. Nobody is being fooled. Both the disabled person's grant and the essential repairs grant have disappeared, and we may as well tell the people.
What of the disabled person in a sitting room downstairs, unable to climb the stairs any longer? There is the embarrassment of having to use makeshift toilet facilities downstairs. What does the Government do about that? Nothing. That is the reality.
Deputy Connaughton referred to affordable housing. I will refer to the oldest local authority housing estate in Galway, Finbar's Terrace in Bohermore, very near my own office. Before the general election, it was announced three times that there would be a big refurbishment job done on the terrace – new roofs, windows, ranges, central heating and pebble-dashing. Since the election the city council has been asked on five occasions by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to cut down the estimates. All the terrace is now getting is the replacement of its old rotten windows by other wooden windows. They are not even getting aluminium windows. That is the reality.
The people were codded right up to the election, but they will not be codded at the next local election, because people are waiting in the long grass for this Government. No matter what the Minister of State says, or what fluff we hear from the Fianna Fáil backbenchers, the people will take it out on the Government parties at the local elections, and I am looking forward to that campaign.
I thank my colleague, Deputy Allen, for bringing this motion before the House to enable us to shed some light on the inadequacies of the present Government and its appalling record to date. I would have thought in the very first instance that the Ministers would have come into the House and thrown themselves on its mercy, and beg for forgiveness from the people of Ireland for the dirty tricks perpetrated on them for the last six years. It is truly an appalling situation. Never in my time in public life, nor the time of anyone else in this House, has there been so much disappointment for so many people. The Minister of State and his Government failed the new generation because they failed to keep house prices down so that that generation could buy houses. They failed their parents, because the parents, having paid their own mortgages, are now being encouraged to assist their families, who otherwise will not have a home at all.
The Government has also failed those on council housing waiting lists, because they have been kept on waiting lists for the last seven years. There was a local authority housing allocation the other day. There were people on that list for eight years, and some of their children were ten, 12 and 14 years of age before the family got a house. This is the caring and the compassion that we get from the Government sitting opposite, and we listen to them.
The Government let down people with disabilities. It failed again. People with disabilities were let down in a year in which the focus of such people was proudly on this country, with Ministers sashaying around Croke Park and aircraft overhead congratulating them. My colleagues have already illustrated clearly how they are being let down. How can the Government have the neck to behave like that and to treat people in that way, people who are already in a sufficiently difficult situation, rubbing their noses in it and letting them know that it does not care for them? The Government is a disgrace.
The Government failed on affordable housing, as my colleagues have pointed out. It failed because it did not want affordable housing. It did not want those who qualified for affordable houses to get them, because they might get on in life. It did not suit the new agenda, which is to take away from people the right to own homes of their own, and to hand it over to landlords. There have not been as many landlords in this country since the time of Oliver Cromwell. Never has there been such an increase in their numbers. Every house that comes on the market in my area currently is bought by an investor or a financial institution or someone else, but not by someone buying a house for himself or herself. Such houses are bought as investments.
The Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Noel Ahern, had the audacity the other evening to tell me that the way to do it was to get five, seven or eight people to come together and share a house. What is the end result of that? The rent works out at €100 per week per person. That is the rate in my area. Ten people can be put in a house, and the rent is €1,000 per week. To whom does it go? It goes to the landlord, the financial institution, the bank or whoever owns that house. I cannot understand how Ministers sitting on the Government side of the House have the audacity to make a suggestion to the effect that we should go along with that. That was never part and parcel of what we had in this country. I have often said before that in banana republics they would deal with such situations, and it would involve more than a sacking.
I do not know where the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, or his Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, are tonight. I presume they are cowering in some corner. They are certainly not going to Croke Park to claim responsibility for all the assistance and good work for which they have been responsible over the last couple of years.
The Government also failed to support those who tried to live in rural areas. It let them down completely, because it took on board An Taisce, which has ensured that nobody who has lived in rural Ireland for all of his or her life will get planning permission in rural Ireland. The Government gives An Taisce a grant, a subsidy to assist it in its work, to ensure that it gets every opportunity to object, and put those looking for planning permission out of business. They are told to go and buy a house in a settlement. The fact that they cannot afford to buy houses in settlements does not come into the reckoning at all, because that would not be part and parcel of the Government's thinking either.
The Minister of State can think very carefully, and his Department colleagues can do the same, but the Government has failed. I have mentioned five failures, and my colleagues have mentioned many more. The Government failed the homeless – those sleeping in doorways in Dublin. The latest excuse I heard for this was that there were not really that many people homeless, it was just that the counting was more accurate lately. The idea was that had they not been counted so well, there would not be so many homeless people on the homeless list.
I have heard many excuses in the past, but I have never heard an excuse like that. This has been a practice of the Government in the recent past. Whenever the numbers rise on local authority housing lists, and become unmanageable and intolerable, the Government counts them again. It shifts as many people as it can off the lists, and then announces the figure has been reduced by ten or 15 or whatever, and promises a survey or a report.
I am saddened and I would be truly embarrassed if I were sitting in the seat occupied by the Minister of State, Deputy Gallagher, because the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister of State with responsibility for housing are elsewhere, hiding and skulking in their offices, afraid to come down to listen to the true story of their efforts over the past six years.
Before they all retire to the rarefied atmosphere of the tent in Ballybrit, members of the Government should think about those with special needs who cannot get the disabled person's grant for the variety of reasons my colleagues have indicated. They should think about the people sleeping in the doorways of this city and other towns and villages throughout the country. They should think about this while they drink their martinis and eat whatever repasts they will have. They should think about the people who have been let down by the previous Administration and this one.
They should ask themselves a simple question. Will many of the homeless, those with disabilities, those who cannot afford a house or those with no chance of getting a local authority house frequent the rarefied atmosphere in that tent? I do not think so. However, those people will get an opportunity at some stage and I hope we are all here to see it. The Government has failed. It has let the country down, let the people down and, worst of all, let itself down. Members of the Government should be ashamed.
That was a great speech but the Deputy has a bad memory.
Ahern, Dermot.Ahern, Michael.Ahern, Noel.Andrews, Barry.Ardagh, Seán.Aylward, Liam.Blaney, Niall.Brady, Johnny.Brady, Martin.Breen, James.Brennan, Seamus.Browne, John.Callanan, Joe.Callely, Ivor.Carey, Pat.Carty, John.Cassidy, Donie.Collins, Michael.Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.Coughlan, Mary.Cregan, John.Cullen, Martin.Curran, John.Davern, Noel.Dempsey, Noel.Dempsey, Tony.Dennehy, John.Devins, Jimmy.Finneran, Michael.Fitzpatrick, Dermot.Gallagher, Pat The Cope.Hanafin, Mary.Haughey, Seán.Hoctor, Máire.Jacob, Joe.Keaveney, Cecilia.
Kelleher, Billy.Kelly, Peter.Killeen, Tony.Lenihan, Brian.Lenihan, Conor.McDowell, Michael.McEllistrim, Thomas.McGuinness, John.Moynihan, Donal.Moynihan, Michael.Mulcahy, Michael.Nolan, M.J.Ó Cuív, Éamon.Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.O'Connor, Charlie.O'Dea, Willie.O'Donnell, Liz.O'Donovan, Denis.O'Flynn, Noel.O'Keeffe, Batt.O'Malley, Fiona.O'Malley, Tim.Parlon, Tom.Power, Seán.Roche, Dick.Sexton, Mae.Smith, Brendan.Smith, Michael.Treacy, Noel.Wallace, Dan.Wallace, Mary.Walsh, Joe.Wilkinson, Ollie.Woods, Michael. Wright, G.V.
Allen, Bernard.Boyle, Dan.Broughan, Thomas P.Bruton, Richard.Burton, Joan.Connaughton, Paul.Connolly, Paudge.Costello, Joe.Coveney, Simon.Cowley, Jerry.Crawford, Seymour.Crowe, Seán.Deasy, John.Deenihan, Jimmy.Durkan, Bernard J.Enright, Olwyn.Ferris, Martin.Gilmore, Eamon.Gogarty, Paul.Gormley, John.Harkin, Marian.Hayes, Tom.Higgins, Joe.Higgins, Michael D.Hogan, Phil.Howlin, Brendan.Lowry, Michael.McCormack, Padraic.
McGrath, Finian.McGrath, Paul.McHugh, Paddy.McManus, Liz.Mitchell, Olivia.Morgan, Arthur.Murphy, Gerard.Neville, Dan.Noonan, Michael.Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.O'Dowd, Fergus.O'Keeffe, Jim.O'Shea, Brian.O'Sullivan, Jan.Pattison, Seamus.Penrose, Willie.Perry, John.Rabbitte, Pat.Ring, Michael.Ryan, Eamon.Ryan, Seán.Sargent, Trevor.Sherlock, Joe.Stagg, Emmet.Stanton, David.Timmins, Billy.Upton, Mary.Wall, Jack.