Housing Policy: Motion.

I move:

That Dáil Éireann,

calls for the introduction of a New National Housing Policy, to ensure that everyone has access to a good quality home in a sustainable community, and at a price they can afford;

believes that such a New National Housing Policy should:

enable every working person/house-hold, who wishes to do so, to buy their own home by:

the introduction of a new affordable and shared equity purchase scheme, which will enable homebuyers to commence purchasing from 25% of the dwelling equity upwards;

new tenant purchase schemes for local authority tenants and tenants of voluntary and co-operative housing bodies;

the introduction of tenant purchase to the private rented sector.

increase the provision of affordable housing to at least the 6,000 per annum which Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is capable of delivering;

increase from 20% to 50% the maximum social and affordable housing to be provided under Part V for new land zonings or for increased densities in ‘affordability black spot' areas;

compulsorily purchase all residential development land in areas where housing is unaffordable, in order to increase the supply of affordable homes;

embargo on the sale of all State owned surplus land, and ensure that such lands are made available to housing authorities, in order to increase the supply of affordable housing;

commit to the NESC target of providing approximately 10,000 social housing units per annum;

end homelessness by 2010;

replace the rent allowance scheme with a new housing support, which will eliminate the poverty traps and disincentives to work associated with the present scheme;

reform stamp duty to favour first-time buyers and families acquiring an affordable principal private residence for occupation; and

stop the rip-off of homebuyers by legislating to outlaw gazumping; protect homebuyers' rights as consumers; efficient taking in charge of housing estates and the control and regulation of private management companies.

I wish to share time with Deputies Penrose, Lynch, Sherlock and Breeda Moynihan-Cronin.

The Labour Party has on many occasions during the past nine years or more of the current Government raised the issue of housing. We have called successively for the establishment of a commission on housing, action on social and affordable housing, an end to homelessness and the difficulties experienced by many who are unable to purchase a home of their own.

The motion is based on a new Labour Party policy document which we launched yesterday called Towards a new Housing Plan. We have prepared this plan because we are aware of the serious housing crisis we continue to face and the abject failure of the Government to ensure that all families have a reasonable chance of putting a roof over their heads. Nothing symbolises more the failure of the Government to ensure that the fruits of economic growth were used for the benefit of the community generally than the current housing position.

After 15 years of sustained economic growth, families are finding it more difficult than ever to buy a home of their own. There are twice as many people on local authority housing waiting lists than there were ten years ago when the Government took office and more than 60,000 are in private rented dwellings, trapped on the rent allowance system that acts as a poverty trap and a disincentive to work. With our population continuing to increase at the fastest rate since the early 19th century, it is clear the housing crisis will continue to grow unless there is a radical change of direction. It is clear that Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats lack the political will to make the changes in direction needed if working people are once again to be able to aspire to own their own homes.

At every point during the past ten years when asked to choose between the needs of families and the interests of developers and speculators Fianna Fáil chose to side with the mega rich developers rather than with the needs of people. This was evident from the way in which it abandoned the original provisions of Part V of the Planning and Development Act which should, by now, have delivered 30,000 affordable homes and surrendered affordable housing sites back to the developers after the last general election.

It is also evident from the manner in which the Government has refused to take the legislative measures recommended by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution that would have allowed local authorities to compulsorily acquire development land to provide additional housing at affordable prices.

The ten-point plan which the Labour Party launched yesterday provides an agenda for the radical change in housing policy which is needed. It is grounded in the belief that the maximum number of people possible should have the opportunity to buy their own home and should be assisted in every reasonable possible way to do so. In this regard one of our key proposals is a new begin-to-buy purchase option which is aimed primarily at people who in present conditions have little hope of getting a mortgage and buying a home of their own. This innovative scheme would enable people to start purchasing a home as soon as they are in full-time employment and allow them to increase their equity in the home as their incomes increased and financial circumstances improved.

Other key proposals in the plan provide for an increase in the supply of affordable housing, reform of rezoning procedures to allow greater provision of social and affordable housing, greater powers for local authorities to acquire development land for housing and redirection of surplus State land for housing purposes, measures to meet the NESC target of 10,000 social housing units per annum, a commitment to end homelessness by 2010, the replacement of the rent allowance system by a new form of housing support, reform of stamp duty and of mortgage interest relief and new legislation to provide stronger consumer protection for homebuyers. The Government's housing strategy has been an abject failure. The Labour Party believes everyone has a right to a home and that it is the duty of Government to ensure everyone has a home that is sufficient to their needs.

I wish to outline the principal features of the Labour Party plan on which this motion is based. Everyone in full-time employment should have the opportunity to buy their own home. Some will choose to rent and there should always be well-developed private and public rented sectors to meet this rental need. The Labour Party reiterates its call for better regulation and higher standards in the rented sector and, in particular, we call again for the updating of the housing standards regulations which have been called for by Threshold.

No worker or their families should be forced to rent solely because they cannot afford to buy. New purchase options need to be developed to maximise the numbers purchasing their own home. These new purchase options need to be designed to take account of the widely differing house prices in different parts of the country. The Labour Party proposes three new options for home purchase. First is a new begin-to-buy purchase option which will enable people to start purchasing a home as soon as they are in full-time employment and to increase their equity in the home as their incomes increase and as their financial circumstances improve. The begin-to-buy scheme should be administered by local authorities whose housing departments should be reformed to fulfil this new function. Any person unable to purchase a home from his or her own resources could apply and two assessments should be made. The person's housing need would be assessed to establish the size and location of housing required. An assessment would be made of the amount the person can afford in loan repayments. Subject to these parameters the applicant would then be approved to purchase a dwelling on a shared equity basis with the applicant purchasing a minimum of 25% and the local authority, either directly or through a financial institution, purchasing the balance. Over time the applicants would have the opportunity to increase their share of the dwelling. They would also have the freedom to sell and redeem their share and to use it in turn to purchase elsewhere under the begin-to-buy scheme.

There should also be a new tenant purchase scheme for tenants of local authorities and for tenants of voluntary and co-operative housing schemes. The existing local authority tenant purchase scheme is outdated and needs to be reformed. Many tenants in voluntary and co-operative housing are also seeking the opportunity to purchase the home in which they live. The terms and conditions of the purchase schemes in the voluntary and co-operative sectors need to be negotiated with the agencies concerned.

We need a tenant purchase arrangement in the private sector. In many cases, where a landlord is selling a house or an apartment, it may be desirable for the tenant to have a realistic opportunity to buy. In cases where a landlord decides to sell up and serves notice on a tenant with a number of years tenancy in order to have vacant possession, it should be possible to make arrangements to encourage the sale of such rented dwellings to existing tenants and a scheme to that end should be devised.

We need to increase the supply of affordable homes. Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 should by now, have delivered approximately 30,000 affordable homes. The social partnership commitment should have produced a further 10,000, bringing to 40,000 the number of affordable houses which should by now have been delivered. Instead only 3,000 have materialised, because the Fianna Fáil and Progressive Democrats Government surrendered the affordable sites back to developers after the last general election.

At current rates of housing construction, Part V should be delivering 6,000 affordable homes each year. To ensure this target is met, developers should be required to commit to their Part V obligations before planning permission is granted not afterwards as is the case at present. In addition, the procedures for Part V agreements should be streamlined, the escape clauses in the existing scheme should be abolished and Part V should apply to all residential developments of five units or more. The loopholes, whereby Part V does not apply in the case of unzoned land and many apartment schemes where the site is less than 0.1 ha, should be abolished. In addition Part V dwellings should also be made available to those purchasing under the begin-to-buy option.

The scope of the affordable housing schemes should be widened so that families trading up, based on need, or moving home for work or family reasons will also be able to qualify. At the moment someone buying a starter home of perhaps one or two bedrooms under the affordable housing scheme whose family size increases cannot use the affordable housing scheme to move to a larger dwelling. That issue needs to be addressed.

Recent studies indicate that in the years ahead, up to 50% of newly forming households will not be able to afford to buy a home from their own resources. This is already the case in the cities, and especially in parts of Dublin, including in my constituency. Future decisions on new land zonings and on increased residential density should reflect this reality, by increasing to 50%, where necessary, the amount of development land to be reserved for social and affordable housing.

The rezoning of land and the increasing of residential densities, which are decisions made by public authorities, confer enormous windfall gains on the landowners and developers concerned. At a minimum, the gain should be shared with the wider public, so that the rezoning of lands and the increasing of densities are directed to meeting the housing needs of those who are being priced out of the market and not just for the financial gain of the landowners and developers concerned.

The November 2004 NESC report on housing identified the existence of "affordability black-spots", particularly in some urban areas. These are areas where the prices of even the most modest dwellings are now well beyond the reach of most people on good middle incomes. These areas, which are mainly in the cities, require special attention. Otherwise, none but the very rich will be able to afford housing in such areas. In city areas where development land is scarce, local authorities should have the power to compulsorily acquire building land, under the formula recommended by the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, in order to provide additional housing at affordable prices. It was the Taoiseach who referred the development land issue to the all-party committee. It is remarkable that although that committee reported two and a half years ago, the Government still has not taken any action to implement its recommendations.

No surplus State-owned land, which is intended to be developed for housing, should be sold into the private market; it should instead be made available to local authorities or to voluntary or co-operative housing bodies. In recent years the Government has sold off lands of former Army, Garda, harbour and State company facilities. The indications are that further such sales are planned. Those land sales should be halted and the lands made available for housing at affordable prices. In addition the State should compulsorily acquire surplus institutional lands such as former hospital or school lands which are being put on the market, apparently for housing purposes, and which are no longer required for their original use.

Approximately 45,000 applicants are now on waiting lists for council housing, which is almost double the number when the present Government parties took office in 1997. That doubling took place despite the changes the Minister of State made when the last assessment of housing need was being carried out when he changed the method by which they are counted in order to make the figures look better.

The NESC has recommended that social housing output should be increased to approximately 10,000 units per annum, for the next seven years. The Labour Party has committed itself to this target. In order to achieve it, it will be necessary not only to increase output by local authorities, but also to increase the numbers of dwellings being produced by the voluntary and co-operative sectors. These sectors are already geared to produce approximately 4,000 housing units per annum, but in practice are prevented from doing so by lack of access to sites and by excessive bureaucracy on the part of State bodies. Labour believes these blockages that stand in the way of the voluntary and co-operative sectors should be removed to enable these sectors to achieve their full potential.

Homelessness is a scandal in our affluent society. The Government has committed itself to a national strategy to end homelessness, and the Labour Party acknowledges that some progress has been made but there is a lot more to be done. The four major housing NGOs, Simon Communities of Ireland, Threshold, Focus Ireland and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul have called for an end to homelessness by 2010. Labour supports this objective and if it gets into government commits itself to ending homelessness in the life of the next Government.

Approximately 60,000 households are in receipt of rent allowance or rent supplement at a cost to the State of approximately €400 million per annum. However, anyone on rent allowance who takes up full-time employment will lose all of his or her rent allowance regardless of the amount of income he or she receives. The rent allowance scheme as currently operated acts as a disincentive to work and as a poverty trap. It needs to be reformed. The Labour Party calls for the replacement of the rent allowance system with a new form of housing support, related to the household's income regardless of source, and to the household's housing needs. The new housing support would free up people on social welfare and on low incomes to work and to improve their circumstances without losing their homes or their full entitlement to rent allowance.

For many homebuyers, the high price they pay for their house or apartment is only the start of the rip-off. They may be price-gazumped at the purchase stage. Their legal fees may be a percentage of the price even though the same legal work is involved regardless of price. They may buy a new house which has unresolved snags with no sign of the builder returning to address them. Their housing estate may be left uncompleted for years. They may be forced to pay ever-increasing charges to a management company for services which are normally provided by the local authority.

The Government should introduce new legislation to secure the consumer rights of those buying homes. This should include the outlawing of price gazumping, full and timely completion of estates and the control and regulation of management companies and charges.

The final component in the Labour Party's plan is a proposal for reform of stamp duty and mortgage relief. I do not propose to discuss these reforms in detail because they will be dealt with by my colleague, Deputy Burton, tomorrow night. Issues such as stamp duty and mortgage relief are important elements in any national housing policy. However, unlike the Progressive Democrats we do not see reform of stamp duty as the be all and end all of housing policy. I have not heard the Progressive Democrats offer a single positive suggestion as to how to assist young couples hoping to buy their own homes——

Deputy Gilmore has not been listening.

——other than the vague statement made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, in September, which conveyed the impression that he wants to abolish stamp duty. This is a matter in respect of which the Tánaiste bears some responsibility because he has been in or associated with the Government for the past nine and a half years. Almost three months after the statement to which I refer, the Progressive Democrats have yet to produce a single specific proposal for reform of a stamp duty regime that is certainly unfair in a number of its aspects. The Progressive Democrats talk, but it is the Labour Party that produces policies.

This is one of the most important plans the Labour Party has produced in recent years. Labour believes that everyone has a right to a home. Shelter is a basic human need and a basic human right. It is the responsibility of Government to ensure that the State's housing policies are arranged so that everyone has a good quality home, which is suitable to their needs, in a safe and sustainable neighbourhood and comes at a price they can afford. After 85 years of independence and with 15 years of unprecedented economic growth under our belts, that should be a realistic and achievable objective of any Government. Following ten years of the current Administration in office, we have instead ended up with a two-tier society with some people who can afford to buy many properties and large numbers who cannot afford to buy homes of their own.

I welcome the opportunity to support this extremely important motion, which has been put forward, on behalf of the Labour Party, by Deputy Gilmore. I am glad that in the 1960s my parents were able to secure a county council house. They found themselves in a position to move out of inadequate accommodation into what then was adequate accommodation provided by a local authority. In that context, it is difficult to imagine that, despite our current affluence and international economic success, we are failing our children. When, 40 to 45 years ago, this country had nothing and exported its best product, namely, its people, it could still manage to provide homes for those who were left behind. During the period to which I refer, many of my uncles left Ireland and never returned. The legacy of Fianna Fáil in power was that they got a one-way ticket.

Ireland's national housing policy is clearly in need of radical change. We do not need a continuation of the laissez faire attitude that permeates the Government, which is ideologically driven by a right-of-centre party. Fianna Fáil appears to have abandoned one of its traditional values, namely, that families should be provided with decent homes, as mine was in the 1960s. The Government amendment to the motion highlights the bankruptcy of the Government’s commitment — if the latter ever needed to be illustrated to — people who do not own properties and who will never do so. I refer here to young men and women who do not own their own dwellings and who have no prospect of doing so under this uncaring, selfish Administration which has zero commitment to them.

The Government only becomes concerned when it comes to a choice between looking after the interests of developers and catering for those who are on housing lists and who live in substandard rented accommodation. In such circumstances, there can be only one winner. Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats look into the hospitality tent and see who contributes most. Those unfortunate people who are obliged to pay rent are not able to contribute to any big ruaille buaille in Galway or anywhere else. The individuals to whom I refer are barely able to make ends meet and pay their bills. They have recently been obliged to cope with huge increases in ESB and gas prices, a development which will ensure that the standard of living decreases even further under this uncaring Government.

Let us consider what Sister Stanislaus said about this matter. I always like to take on board what people on the outside state because people say that we are politically motivated. Sister Stanislaus is not politically motivated; she has given her life to promoting the need to provide people with housing of a decent standard. Approximately eight or nine months ago, she stated that the Government has abandoned its historical policy of providing social housing for people who cannot afford to buy their own homes. Basically, she informed this Administration that it has abysmally failed the people for whom it should have catered.

Deputy Gilmore is correct in stating that the Minister of State will indicate that over the past ten years 500,000 new homes — approximately one third of the country's entire housing stock — have been built. However, house prices in Mullingar have more than trebled and they have quadrupled in Dublin. I am sure the latter is the position in Cork and other cities. Houses are being built but the people who need them cannot buy them because they cannot afford to do so. Why is that the case? It is because the Government has ensured that people can buy three, four, five or six houses, thereby becoming the sort of landlords of whom Michael Davitt tried to rid the country. Approximately €400 million is paid out each year in rent supplements. This money is paid by the relevant arm of the Government to the people to whom I refer in order that they can buy their third, fourth or fifth houses. It is a beautiful merry-go-round, with everybody in the circle. As Robert De Niro stated in a recent film, once a person steps out of the "circle of trust", they cannot step back in again. The unfortunate people who cannot step back into the circle are those who cannot afford to buy or build houses, those who cannot purchase sites for houses and those who are homeless.

Is there no longer such a thing as a social conscience? Is it not time to tell the speculators and those who display a grab-all mentality that they have benefited enough? The Government reduced capital gains tax from 40% to 20% in order that these people would free up land to ensure that housing would be available to those who need it most. What did they do? They took advantage of the 20% reduction and pocketed the money. As the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, indicated previously, we were obliged to get rid of the first-time buyers grant because developers were also pocketing that money. Do developers have no shame? The more incentives they receive — the Minister of State is very good at ensuring they get them — the more money they will pocket. The longer the Government remains in power, the wealthier these people will become because no one will tackle them.

I have some experience in the area of rent allowance. When she served as Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan exacerbated the situation in this area despite warnings I issued to her when we debated particular legislation. There are 60,000 tenants in private rented accommodation who are subjected to means tests. The system relating to the rent supplement allowance is administered by community welfare officers. The vast majority are social welfare recipients but there are some people on low incomes who should also be able to avail of the allowance. The then Minister, Deputy Coughlan, made the situation worse by introducing a provision which means that a person who is employed for 30 hours per week cannot qualify for rent supplement. Even if one member of a couple works 30 hours per week and the overall household income is low, payment cannot be made. It is time to get rid of what is clearly a poverty trap that was introduced by the then Minister, Deputy Coughlan, despite our warnings with regard to what would happen.

Earlier today, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland made a presentation to the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs of which I am Chairman. Its representatives stated that the disabled person's housing grant provides essential financial support to people who are obliged to adapt their homes to increase their mobility. Will the Minister of State increase the grant and ensure that the full amount is given to local authorities? Many of the latter do not possess the one third funding necessary to allow them to engage in co-financing.

I congratulate Deputy Gilmore on the motion and the excellent policy document he produced lately on housing in Ireland. Public representatives are very accessible in Ireland, unlike in other countries where people do not see them between one election and the next. Housing is a constant theme of representations by people at one's home or advice centre or on the street. Yesterday morning, I spoke to ten women in Knocknaheeny, Cork, about women's participation in politics and the necessity to vote. Of the ten women, five approached me afterwards about their children's need for housing. That group is representative of the area. It is frightening that when the Minister of State and I bought our first houses, the average mortgage was for 15 years. At the time, unemployment was at its height but I could still pay off the price of my house within 15 years. My daughter and her partner, who have good jobs, have taken out a 30-year mortgage. We must ask ourselves questions about this situation. Where is our value system? What are we doing about our children and their future?

An affordable housing scheme is being undertaken in Cork and successful applicants recently received a letter stating they had qualified. They then received a second letter asking them to obtain a mortgage, which they did. Only one or two banks are participating in the scheme, which is outrageous. They should be ashamed of themselves but when was a bank ever embarrassed about anything? However, the bank in Cork has refused mortgages to applicants on the scheme. One couple, with both partners working, pay €1,200 a month in rent for themselves and two children. They cannot be considered by the local authority for social housing. While they are considered well off enough to house themselves, they were refused a mortgage of €180,000. That is scandalous. People with reasonable incomes are being refused mortgages and they are falling outside the affordable housing loop.

I was informed by a young woman who deals with mortgage applicants in the bank that she had met several people seeking loans under the affordable housing scheme who had been refused. She said she is seriously considering not voting anymore because the next customer was a property developer seeking a mortgage for his twentieth house. He was on his way to the manager's office because, naturally, he would not have to stand at the counter like the rest of the plebs. He boasted it would not cost him a penny because of tax incentives. That is the society the Minister of State's Government has created and encouraged.

At the conclusion of the debate, the Minister of State will tell the House how great he is and how many houses he is providing. He will also have the impertinence to tell Members that if they have individual cases of people who cannot be housed, they can approach him and he will sort them out. That is not how it works. People have a right to a roof over their heads and to shelter and they should not be in bondage to landlords or banks for the rest of their lives for the privilege. The Government is a disgrace because it has allowed the housing market to escalate out of control. The price of houses has increased tenfold over the past five years, but the Minister of State sits in the House as if it has nothing to do with him and he is an innocent bystander. Young couples are desperately worried. People in their twenties never worried about the Bundesbank and interest rates before but they are worried now.

I am very disappointed the Minister of State and the Government tabled an amendment to the motion. The motion is relevant but, on the basis of politics, the Government tabled an amendment. Housing is an essential social necessity and houses must be provided to purchase or rent at a reasonable cost. Local authorities must build houses for families to rent or purchase because people need their own homes. Families spend years living in totally inadequate flats as they await housing, but the conditions are wrong. The price of houses in the private market is outrageous. Both partners must work to pay the mortgage. NESC stated 10,000 affordable housing units should be provided as quickly as possible, but thousands of families remain on local authority housing waiting lists. The Government parties have failed the public and they have forgotten the great people who depend on local authority housing and affordable housing schemes.

A new national housing policy should ensure everybody has access to a good quality home in a sustainable community at a price he or she can afford. This issue will not be brought to a close tomorrow evening. The Labour Party will continue to pursue this matter to ensure attention is being paid.

The rent allowance scheme was referred to by previous speakers. Community welfare officers have made it more difficult for people to obtain the allowance in recent months. They are putting pressure on single mothers by telling them they will lose the allowance and, consequently, this issue must be examined.

Mention was made of Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. Having introduced the provision, it was outrageous that the Government should amend it to provide for landowners and speculators. The housing programme will always change when builders are not making a profit. That scene is changing and it is about time the Government changed its attitude and built houses for people that they can afford.

I move:

To delete all words after "Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following:


the launching of the Housing Policy Framework — Building Sustainable Communities in 2005, which firmly sets the housing policy objective of enabling every household to have available an affordable dwelling of good quality, suited to its needs, as far as possible at the tenure of its choice, in the broader context of building sustainable communities; and

the announcement of additional investment in the 2007 Abridged Estimates to honour the commitments entered into in Towards 2016 to increase social and affordable housing supply over the coming three years, with a view to assisting some 60,000 households;

acknowledges that evolving policy is built on the achievements of this Government in:

delivering over half a million homes since 1997 and thereby enabling unprecedented numbers of first-time buyers to access home ownership during that period;

increasing housing supply as the key response to the broad range of housing needs and demands with one third of Ireland's total housing stock being completed in the past ten years;

improving affordability for first-time buyers through targeted measures including improvements in tax reliefs and stamp duty, and investment in affordable housing initiatives;

taking steps to ensure that sufficient zoned and serviced land is available to support the achievement of ten successive years of record-breaking housing output, likely to exceed 90,000 units in 2006;

taking action to promote reform and development of the private rented sector generally, including the enactment of a modern legislative code that strengthens tenants rights and supports a more professional approach by landlords and the recent launch of an action programme to promote improvement in standards of private rented accommodation;

taking action to improve the regulation of property services and to address various issues relating to the management of common areas and facilities in private developments;

introducing the ground-breaking legislation under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2006 which provides a Constitution-proofed framework through which a reasonable and proportionate share of the betterment derived from residential zoning and planning decisions is captured for social and affordable housing purposes;

significantly increasing delivery under Part V in terms of both social and affordable housing;

assigning over 70 State and local authority sites to the affordable housing initiative, as part of its commitment to affordable housing;

establishing the affordable homes partnership, which is playing an important role, in particular, in driving the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area;

bringing forward five-year housing action plans by local authorities to co-ordinate, accelerate and bring greater integration to action on housing at local level;

introducing a housing support for recipients of rent supplement with long-term housing need called the rental accommodation scheme;

dedicating significant resources to the renewal and regeneration of existing local authority estates; and

providing for the needs of 100,000 households in the last ten years through various social and affordable housing programmes;

notes the commitment of the Government in the housing policy framework and elsewhere to:

enhance the supply of affordable housing and to support paths from social housing to home ownership, involving new affordable and shared equity options and sale of flats to local authority tenants under certain conditions;

deliver additional homes to those in need of social housing through a range of options;

eliminate the long-term occupancy of emergency homeless accommodation by 2010; and

investigate the possibility of introducing a ‘use it or lose it' scheme that could entail compulsory acquisition of land for housing purposes at below market value in specified circumstances."

I welcome the opportunity to comment on the call by the Labour Party for a new housing policy to ensure that everyone has access to a good quality home in a sustainable community at an affordable price. This Government has already launched that policy, entitled Housing Policy Framework — Building Sustainable Communities.

It is a leaflet, not a policy.

It sets out housing policy firmly in the broader context of building sustainable communities and was launched last December with a package of increased resources for housing programmes. There is an extraordinary similarity between many of the issues raised by the Labour Party and the contents of our framework document.

In developing this agenda, we have sought to build wide support for the approach among stakeholders. I welcome the fact that the new policy has been endorsed by the social partners in Towards 2016 and that the Labour Party endorses our approach and has picked up on many of the elements of our statement in its policy document. However, it has also included proposals that seem more aspirational than practical or achievable. I am sure Deputies agree that policies are worthless if they are not viable.

I will highlight the broad context of the announcement of the new housing policy framework last year. In 2004, the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, prepared an important report on housing in which it referred to the dynamic nature of the Irish housing sector, which has responded to the unprecedented growth in incomes and employment, and a range of demographic factors, with some 90,000 new homes to be built this year compared to less than 34,000 in 1996. Earlier in that decade, the figure was just over 20,000.

This situation did not arise without Government action. The large growth in housing supply by both historical and international standards resulted from the Government's reform of the planning regime, investment in the servicing of land and the promotion of policies to ensure more effective use of land. The Government has had a clear policy objective of increasing supply to meet demand, promoting access to housing by first-time buyers and assisting those who cannot meet their accommodation needs through the housing market.

Within this framework, our policies have been flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances. Indeed, NESC referred in particular to the dynamism of policy development in recent years. We have been innovative in our responses including reforming the planning regime in 2000; introducing Part V provisions to improve social integration and to provide new delivery mechanisms for social and affordable housing; modernising the private rented sector through the passage of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 to expand choice of tenure; introducing new affordable housing schemes to meet new demands in this area; using previously underutilised State lands for housing purposes, including via land swaps; and establishing the affordable homes partnership to drive the delivery of affordable housing in the greater Dublin area and developing the rental accommodation scheme as a new social housing option for households on rent supplement. All of this has taken place alongside a significant increase in investment in housing.

The needs of some 13,000 households were addressed through social and affordable housing measures in 2005 compared to approximately 8,500 in 2000. We are building on our achievements and experience to respond to housing need in a sustainable way. When the Labour Party does not copy our policies and actions in its proposed programme, it promises options that will not produce housing in the short term even if it were possible to see the party's suggestions through.

In the housing policy framework, the Government has reiterated its firm belief that home ownership should be available to as many people as possible where this is their preferred option. We have substantially increased these opportunities. For example, in 1997, the shared ownership and mortgage allowance schemes were the only affordable housing options available. In 2005, more than 900 households accessed housing through these options and an additional 2,000 households benefited in 2005 from the new schemes introduced by the Government.

Local authorities are delivering additional affordable housing options by building on their lands or State land and acquiring units through Part V arrangements. We have committed to a greater streamlining of these schemes and this work is now in hand. Considerable progress has been made by the affordable homes partnership in developing and implementing innovative approaches, such as land swaps and calls for additional land for social and affordable housing. We should hear from the partnership on its work in that regard shortly.

The momentum of delivery is growing and we expect to deliver some 17,000 affordable homes between 2007 and 2009. This is a considerable commitment to meeting the needs of first-time buyers who find themselves priced out of the market. It is part of a wider policy that seeks to improve access by boosting supply. We have ensured that our tax regime is favourable to first-time buyers by adjusting mortgage interest relief and stamp duty.

The commitment to improving access to home ownership must encompass not only affordable housing options, but paths from social housing. While it is legitimate to address the home ownership aspirations of tenants of social housing, we need a balanced approach. We must seek to achieve a range of different ways to provide social housing that offer better choices and quality of accommodation to tenants and that respond to how needs change during the life cycle.

Taking all of these aspects together, we have committed to enhancing paths to home ownership in the context of both the framework and Towards 2016. We have indicated that this will include shared equity schemes and the sale of flats under certain conditions. We are working on the detailed schemes, including the supporting legislative provisions. They will be brought to Government shortly.

Where property is owned by others, we cannot simply announce schemes and mislead tenants. We must respect the legal framework set down in the Constitution and advance by consultation. Therefore, we are in discussions with the voluntary and co-operative sector to determine how the home ownership aspirations of new tenants in that sector can be best addressed. I await with interest the details of the Labour Party proposal, which seems to involve forcing private sector landlords to sell to their tenants.

We said "encourage".

That sounds interesting, but I wonder how one would do it and what type of landlord would let accommodation with that encouragement.

When they are selling.

One could not do it by coercion.

We are not talking about coercion.

Irrespective of whether it is real, I admit that it is an innovative approach.

The housing policy framework sets out an important agenda for social housing. It is not only a question of delivering quantity, but also quality. This issue is absent from the Labour Party motion. We are not going down the road of quantity; quality and building communities are important.

We said "sustainable" and "good neighbourhoods".

In the 1960s, we chose quantity. We spend approximately €240 million per year trying to put——

Who was in power in the 1960s?

I am sure that we were all there.

We were not. Fianna Fáil had that decade to itself.

If the Deputy wants, I will broaden the period in question to include the 1970s. We are spending €240 million per year trying to put right some past policies that were based on keys and numbers. Numbers are important, but so is quality. In recent years, everything that has been built has been of the highest quality. There was a time when local authority houses stuck out for a mile, but some of the new houses are of fine design. In many cases, they are better built than private homes. That is the way it should be.

That is true.

We are building new social housing at rates not seen in a generation. Some 11,000 units were in progress at the end of June 2006 and we are well placed to deliver on the commitments in Towards 2016 to start or acquire some 27,000 new homes for those in need of social housing in the next three years. This commitment was entered into against the backdrop of the NESC report and its associated targets. We have provided resources in the 2007 Estimates to honour this commitment with a record provision of €1.5 billion — a 9% increase in Exchequer housing programmes over 2006 levels, which was one of the biggest Vote increases in my or any Department.

We are also employing innovative approaches in social housing. The rental accommodation scheme, which we have been rolling out for the past year, provides new choice to households on rent supplement in the private rented sector. In particular, it provides long-term high quality accommodation. Again, it is strange for the Labour Party to call for a new scheme when the Government has already introduced it.

No, it has not.

Deputy Gilmore is normally up to speed on these matters.

That is not what we are talking about.

I am surprised the Labour Party called for a new scheme. The rental accommodation scheme has the potential to solve many of the problems to which the Labour Party spokespersons referred, by not penalising people for taking up a job.

How many are on the scheme? Are there a dozen?

There are more like 12,000.

Similarly, we have already committed, in Towards 2016, to work with the social partners on the elimination of people in long-term emergency accommodation by 2010. We have made good progress tackling the many issues of homelessness. An independent review of implementation of the Government’s homeless strategies, published earlier this year, acknowledged that “substantial progress has been made across all aspects of homelessness from the provision of housing to health services and reducing rough sleeping”.

We all know it is not just about putting a roof over people's heads. If it was, and only required money, it would have been done a long time ago but many people in such circumstances have complex addiction and mental health problems and the involvement of the Department of Health and Children, which spends almost as much as my Department, is vital. We intend to build on this success by now focusing on the development of long-term accommodation, as opposed to emergency accommodation.

I will now turn to the important questions of land for housing and the role of Part V. Part V of the Planning and Development Acts, 2000 to 2006, is a groundbreaking piece of legislation. It is one of the important means of delivering on the housing agenda introduced by the Government, a fact acknowledged by NESC. This legislation provides a constitutionally-proofed framework through which a reasonable and proportionate share of betterment derived from residential zoning and planning decisions is captured for social and affordable housing purposes. I appreciate Deputy Gilmore's proposal but it was difficult to achieve a provision for even 20% with the agreement of the Supreme Court.

The proposal was only for newly-zoned land.

Not all housing output in the State is subject to Part V.

It should be.

The mistake is regularly made, when viewing output under Part V, of simply applying a percentage to the total overall housing output to determine the Part V contribution. While some people make that mistake, others, including Deputy Gilmore, encourage a misreading of the provision. This has led many to jump to erroneous conclusions and make wild pronouncements about what Part V should achieve.

The affordable housing strategy being rolled out by the Government will deliver 17,000 homes over the coming three years. This will not be at the expense of social housing because some 60,000 households will benefit under the measures committed to in the housing policy framework and Towards 2016.

We have also implemented the NESC recommendation to develop active land management strategies and these are now a companion piece to the multi-annual housing action plans that are designed to deliver an integrated and holistic response to housing need. More broadly, we are exploring the feasibility of introducing a "use it or lose it" scheme that could entail compulsory acquisition of land for housing purposes at below market value in specified circumstances.

The Government has put coherent and connected policies in place to address the current and future demands of the housing sector. We are providing resources for expanding programmes and, importantly, we have projects in place to deliver them. We focus on the delivery of homes, rather than mere aspirations.

The purchase of a home is the largest transaction most people undertake. Therefore, we are taking action on a number of fronts to improve consumer information and protection. In this regard, the auctioneering and estate agency review group report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, published in October 2005, contained a number of valuable recommendations that will impact positively on the housing sector and be of particular benefit to consumers.

A key recommendation of the review group was that a new property service regulatory authority be established to regulate the auctioneering and estate agency businesses and related matters, including regulation of property managing agents and property letting agencies, which have not been subject to regulation up to now. I am glad to say that action to implement the review group recommendations is well under way. Legislation to regulate property services, including the establishment and role of the property services authority, is in the course of preparation by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Arrangements for the early establishment of the authority and its structures are already under way.

The review group also looked at the issue of gazumping. Deputies will be aware that this issue has been examined in some detail by a number of agencies, including a law reform study as far back as 1999.

Why has the Government not done anything about it?

The review group report indicated that any Government action to outlaw or prohibit the practice would require changes to the law of contract. It concurred with a previous Law Reform Commission conclusion that the only practicable way to protect buyers would be through consumer information and it recommended that the property services regulatory authority address this as a priority.

I understand that the general scheme of the property services Bill will make provision for regulations to take account of the Law Reform Commission report on gazumping. The Irish Home Builders Association has operated a voluntary code of practice since 1999, which is designed to give buyers of new homes protection against gazumping. It is my view that gazumping has not been a significant feature of the housing market for some time and the voluntary code has gone a long way towards dealing with the issue.

The Government is very conscious of issues that have emerged about property management in Ireland. Action to achieve improvements in the area as quickly as possible is being taken by a number of agencies. Action is being taken by my Department on planning aspects and taking in charge of estates. Planning authorities have been advised that management companies should not be conditioned for traditional housing estates and, pending further guidance, should only be conditioned in mixed estates in cases where they would clearly be of benefit to the residents.

Planning authorities have already been reminded of their responsibilities over the taking in charge of traditional housing estates. A working group involving relevant interests has been set up to delineate the extent of the local authority responsibilities for facilities in high density estates. It is intended that the group finish its work before the end of the year and that further guidance issue to planning authorities in early 2007 at the latest.

My Department is also pursuing agreement with the construction industry on measures to prevent management problems involving developers. The issues in question include, for example, incorrect obligations being placed on buyers of houses or apartments and developers retaining control of management companies. Agreed measures would be incorporated in an industry code of practice.

Actions are also being taken in this area by other Departments. The legislation being developed by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform for the new property services regulatory authority will include the regulation of managing agents. The authority will licence, regulate and deal with complaints relating to managing agents, which are commercial firms engaged by management companies to carry out day-to-day management and maintenance. The authority will also have a public information function relating to property management.

In addition, action is being taken by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on legislation to reform company law, which governs management companies. I draw Deputies' attention to the useful information booklet published by the National Consumer Agency on management companies and charges, and a report containing a range of recommendations on the issue.

The Law Reform Commission is examining legal aspects generally regarding the management of multi-unit structures. A consultation paper is likely to be published before Christmas. Recommendations are likely to deal with both the prevention of future problems and identification of effective legal mechanisms to remedy existing problems, for example, due to defective legal documentation or dissolution of management companies. Following the consultation period, a final report will be prepared by the Law Reform Commission. Its recommendations will be considered by the Departments concerned to see what new measures are necessary. In the meantime the actions I have outlined will help to achieve improvements in this area, without prejudice to the recommendations from the commission.

This Government has been successful since 1997 in increasing investment in housing, expanding the range of housing supports and generally facilitating a vibrant housing market. It has been, perhaps, the most remarkable era for house building since the foundation of the State, a circumstance helped in no small measure by the priority given to housing policy by this Government. In the early 1990s the total number of houses built, both private and social, was approximately 22,000 per year. That has increased to 80,000 last year and 90,000 this year, based on the figures for the first nine months.

We are building on these approaches to ensure housing policy is seen in the appropriate context of building sustainable communities. That is the key issue. We are not just opting for numbers. One could have adopted a policy of just building vast local authority estates on greenfield sites, as was done in previous decades.

Now it is opting for vast private estates.

No, they are integrated estates. They are a mixture of private, voluntary and social houses.

There are no schools and no community infrastructure.

If the Deputy is complaining that our Department has been so good and quick that it has left the Department of Education and Science grasping to catch up, I accept that can be a problem.

We need joined-up Government.

The Department of Education and Science, however, would claim that historically when new estates were built there were four or five years for families to be established whereas nowadays many ready-made families are arriving from various places, including people returning to live here. That has put pressure on education in certain areas.

The policy announced by the Government has been endorsed by the social partners. That took a considerable amount of time during the year but it was worthwhile. The social partners will be involved in the housing forum, whose first meeting will be held shortly.

Is that meant to keep them quiet?

It is to hear their views and have their input. It is to move forward in partnership, which has been the hallmark of this Government for some years.

The detailed statement we are working on will be announced in early 2007. When we issued the framework document last December, we thought various things might have moved forward more quickly during the year. Perhaps if we had produced our final document, it would have deprived the Opposition of the opportunity to pinch some of our ideas.

That was not a document, it was a leaflet. It was not a strategy.

It is a framework document outlining our thinking. If one reads Towards 2016, one can get a greater flavour of that. The final document will be issued early in the new year. Legislation is required and we will introduce a housing miscellaneous provisions Bill to give legal effect to some aspects, such as the sale of flats scheme. What we are doing will complement the funding announced last week for housing programmes and continued investment across the range of infrastructure necessary to support the housing demand from our growing population.

The announcement last week was a 9% increase, so the amount of social housing we are committed to providing is considerable. Resources are no longer a problem. In fact, the problem has been to drive the local authority and voluntary housing sector to spend the money. There were times in the past, when other Governments were in office, when the Department seemed to slow the plans of local authorities. They would get them to send in the plans repeatedly for various matters to be approved. I recall that during my 20 years as a member of a local authority tactics were used that appeared from the outside to be delaying tactics. I am sure they were for loftier reasons but that has not been an issue in recent years. The problem has been to drive the local authorities to spend the money, whether it is on new build, turn key developments or buying secondhand houses. We are driving them to spend the money. There is no shortage of money, although we will not let them blow it. We want quality and numbers.

The spend on housing under the national development plan over recent years has been above target. I accept the output was below what we thought would be achieved but over recent years the housing section of the Department has got more resources than it was promised. Its allocation last week is another reflection of that.

We have been innovative and dynamic in our response to the unprecedented circumstances of recent years. There has been a booming economy for a number of years. The census figures show an 8% increase in the population, after an 8% increase in the previous census. That previous census showed an 18% increase in the population of 25 to 34 year olds. Naturally, housing is struggling to keep up with a booming economy and such a population increase. However, the Department has done a considerable amount to look after those who are unable to buy a home while at the same time being innovative with affordable schemes and encouraging more of them.

The Affordable Homes Partnership was established last year. It advertised a call for lands in the media some months ago. It has received a number of submissions from owners of land that was not previously zoned.

I will bet it has.

It is examining those submissions and I expect announcements soon. I sincerely hope Deputy Gilmore will encourage local authority members in the greater Dublin area to support these proposals so we can move forward with more provision of affordable houses over forthcoming years.

Are these zoned lands? Will it involve any dodgy rezoning?

Zoning is dealt with by local authorities.

They could not get the zoning through the front door so they are going through the Affordable Homes Partnership to get it through the back door.

I was a member of a local authority for years. I believe in local authorities, provided they do their job. When the Affordable Homes Partnership comes forward with its proposals and recommendations I hope local authority members in the councils in Dublin, who are so committed to the provision of affordable homes for their constituents, will support them.

Some of them are not too committed to it, given some of their decisions.

We have been innovative and dynamic in our response to the unprecedented circumstances of recent years. Our success has been based on practical interventions. This will remain our focus, centred on addressing the needs of first-time buyers and low income households. It surprised me to hear Deputy Lynch say she repaid her mortgage over 15 years because I repaid mine over 25 years. I accept that many mortgages are now taken out for 35 years but affordability can be as important as house prices. The key issue is the percentage of take home pay spent on mortgages and, while that proportion has risen over the past 30 years, it has not increased by the same multiples as house prices.

Mortgages have increased by 50% over the past three months.

Where is the Minister of State living?

I think that is a fair record of the work being done by the Government.

During Private Members' business on Wednesday, 15 November, I cited a report from the Health Service Executive concerning Bedford House nursing home in Balbriggan, County Dublin. The report stated that the registered owner of this home was a Dr. Nasser. For clarity, this doctor is registered with the Irish Medical Council as doctor No. 10840, with the full name of Dr. Khawaja Jamel Nasser.

With regard to the comments of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on housing, it has now become impossible for young people to buy homes in this city unless they are extremely wealthy. Housing estates in the adjoining counties of Louth, Meath, Kildare, Wicklow and as far afield as Wexford and Portlaoise are now occupied by Dubliners who have been driven out because they cannot afford to buy homes in their own city. Despite the success of our economy, a second Ireland has been created which consists of all who are excluded from the benefits of this new wealth.

I welcome the Labour Party motion because I have studied that party's policies and believe it is time for changes in government and housing policies. As a society, we need to provide young people with opportunities to purchase houses of their own. A challenge arises in that respect because of the increase in mortgage rates and, although house prices appear to be stabilising, a person living in Dublin would have to save €30,000 this year to keep pace with the increase in the price of a house that he or she could have bought last January. There is no way out for these people and it is a mark of social exclusion that they are not allowed to participate in the success of the economy. Government policies have not been successful in terms of intervening in the market to ensure sufficient units of affordable housing. Fine Gael has brought proposals of its own on this issue, some of which are already in the public domain and which contain many of the proposals set out in tonight's motion.

The Progressive Democrats Party, eager for a bit of media attention before its day out in Malahide, has flown a kite about the abolition — not just the reform — of stamp duty. In response, a grumpy Minister for Finance makes it clear that nothing will be done. The confusion leaves young couples scratching their heads at how little the Government has done for them in terms of housing, while the auction market grinds to a standstill in anticipation of what, if anything, will be done on budget day. The Government is characterised by two extremes. On the one hand, the Progressive Democrats Party recklessly wants to get rid of stamp duty and, on the other, Fianna Fáil believes there is no need for reform. The Irish public, particularly those seeking to get on or move up the ladder, are not served by such a scenario.

Fine Gael will support this motion. I am particularly gratified to see reference in the motion to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. It is abundantly clear that Part V, which was designed to provide social and affordable housing units and ensure social integration, is not working. When first proposed, the idea was considered a revolutionary attempt to end the ghettoisation of social and affordable housing by bringing more units on stream. That has not happened because local authorities interpret Part V differently, developers appear unwilling to meet their commitments and the units are not being delivered. Cash sums are often provided instead of land or actual homes. It is time to end the practice of allowing local authorities to accept cash payments in lieu of land or housing units. We will take this matter in hand by insisting that 20% of all new developments comprising five or more units are allocated for social and affordable purposes. No local authority will be permitted to accept cash payment in lieu of housing units. Where the private development is situated in an area with already high levels of social housing, it should be possible for the developer to provide 20% of the land for the construction by the developer of social and community facilities, such as sports complexes, swimming pools and educational facilities. This will help to maintain and improve social cohesion by encouraging a greater mix of private housing within a predominantly social housing area and the entire community can benefit from improved facilities.

I offer my full backing to the argument made in the motion that building must be commenced on land zoned for residential use. According to the economist, Mr. Jerome Casey, site costs constitute 42.5% of the cost of the average house, rising to 50% in Dublin. His conclusion is that eight years in the normal life of a 25-year mortgage goes on site costs. Mr. Casey also estimates that 25 individuals or companies control more than half the housing development land in the Fingal area, which includes Balbriggan, Donabate and Blanchardstown.

Figures from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government indicate there was enough zoned land in Dublin city and county in mid-2004 to produce 112,000 housing units. Nationally, there were 12,500 hectares of zoned serviced land with an estimated yield of 367,000 units, which equates to sufficient capacity for residential development nationwide for over five years. Despite this, demand has not been met, land prices have continued to soar and many remain unable to step on to the property ladder. Fine Gael is determined to ensure that the zoning process is made to work for rather than against the creation of sustainable communities and a healthy balance of private, affordable and social housing, together with the necessary amenities.

Local authorities should issue compulsory purchase orders where land zoned and serviced for housing is not being developed in a timely fashion. This land should be acquired at below market rates. The clear message to anyone hoarding land will be "use it or lose it".

I also support the point made in the motion on the use of State land. Housing cannot be provided if there is insufficient land available for building purposes. In light of gross mismanagement of the public finances, it is unfortunate that Departments and State agencies increasingly see private land banks as revenue streams rather than potential sites for new and desperately needed housing. Recently, mental health facilities, prisons and the SDS site in south Dublin have been earmarked for sale. Instead of this disjointed, piecemeal approach, Fine Gael proposes to implement a coherent land disposal policy.

We will instruct the homeless agency, in tandem with the Office of Public Works, to conduct a full audit of State-owned land with a view to identifying whether it is necessary to the further development of the Department or agency. If not, and if it is suitable for housing development, it will be developed by the State for a mix of social, affordable and private housing or through public private partnerships. We will end the practice of selling valuable State lands to pay for capital investment in hospitals, the Defence Forces etc. That is the reason we pay our taxes. Any development will also provide for retail, leisure and community facilities on site, both as amenities for the new housing and to benefit existing communities.

I am happy to endorse the call to end homelessness by 2010, made recently by the housing charities that joined together for the Make Room campaign. There are 5,581 homeless people in Ireland, living in 3,773 units. In Dublin, 4,060 people are homeless and they include 1,140 children. That is enough to fill the Point Depot. The Simon Community claims the figures are a "gross underestimation".

There are 492 homeless children in Ireland, the majority of whom are in their mid to late teens. However, according to figures compiled by the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health and Children, 22 homeless children are under the age of 12. The overall number of homeless children grew from 476 in 2003 to 492 in 2004. The highest numbers of homeless children were recorded in urban areas. There were 210 in greater Dublin, followed by 132 in the south, 46 in the west and 43 in the mid-west. The lowest figures were in the north west, where five children were found to be homeless.

It is intolerable that, after a decade of prosperity, we still live in a society where homelessness is a daily fact of life for so many. All of us, in government and opposition alike, must work towards eliminating homelessness once and for all. To do so, I am convinced that the State must invest heavily in move-on accommodation. Such housing is designed to assist homeless people move out of homelessness and to ensure vulnerable people do not become homeless. In essence, it provides a semi-sheltered environment for those who cannot cope with independent living.

It goes without saying that the Government's shameful failure to deliver on the social housing units it has repeatedly promised is adding to the problem. It is vital that the root causes of homelessness, such as poverty and the twin scourges of drug abuse and alcohol dependency, are tackled. These problems are not limited to Dublin. Recent evidence from the Combat Poverty Agency shows that poverty is not limited to our major urban centres. While this summer's announcement of funding for the regional drugs task forces is welcome, it comes after years of an absence of funding. The Government is only now addressing that.

The rent allowance scheme is not working, certainly not in my town. The cap on the amount a local authority is allowed to pay for rent is too low and landlords will not agree to it. Initially a number of landlords signed up to the scheme but it is now practically impossible to get them to do so. While the principle behind the scheme is good, it is not working. Last year, €16 million allocated for the scheme around the country went unspent. The Government was not able to give it to local authorities to allow people to have decent rented accommodation. That is a serious failure.

They do not have the staff.

In Louth the authority has enough staff but the problem is that landlords will not sign up to the scheme because the cap is too low. It might be fine in other counties but it should not apply in towns such as Drogheda, which is now in the greater Dublin area. This cap requires significant adjustment if the money is to be spent. The money is available and I acknowledge that the Minister must balance the setting of the cap against the desire of landlords to acquire rental income over the odds. There is a fundamental flaw in the rent allowance scheme but I do not have a problem with it per se because it helps certain people.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I give credit where credit is due and acknowledge that the rent allowance scheme is good. However, as Deputy O'Dowd said, it needs to be extended and facilitated if it is to work.

There is a perception that it is only in the satellite towns around Dublin that young people cannot afford their own houses. In the three main towns of the constituency of south Kerry, namely, Killarney, Kenmare and Dingle, there is a huge problem in this regard in that it is literally impossible for young people to buy houses. There are nearly 1,500 people on the waiting list for houses in the constituency at present, yet only three affordable houses in Killarney were made available to them this year. That is an absolute disgrace.

Part V of the Planning and Development Act should have delivered 30,000 affordable homes. The number built in my constituency should have been considerable.

Has the Deputy checked how many fell under Part V? How many had planning permission before Part V was introduced? These facts should be determined and then an accurate analysis should be carried out.

A deal was done with the local authorities and they were paid money instead of being afforded the possibility of building houses. The money is no good to our local authorities because when they go to buy land, they cannot deal with the developers bidding against them.

Planning permission presents a problem in Kerry. A few years ago, a problem arose in Kerry County Council regarding the moving of motions under section 4 and it made headlines all over the country. A deal was made with the councillors such that if farm families or other families with some land were facilitated with planning permission, no more section 4 motions would be moved. In fairness to the councillors, they went down this road. However, planners are now placing every obstacle in the way of the applicants, be it associated with the location of an entrance or otherwise, such that the farm families are moving out of the area. They apply for planning permission a couple of times but it costs them more than the deposit for a house.

The aforementioned has a knock-on effect in that the families concerned are no longer living near their elderly relatives to look after them. This arose in the debate on nursing homes last week. The problem arises in the Minister of State's constituency, that of Deputy O'Dowd and all other rural constituencies. We need to loosen the planning legislation.

The county council can include such conditions in the county development plan.

If they did, it would be grand but the guidelines are not strict enough.

The Government should note that lands attached to St. Finian's Hospital in Killarney are not to be sold into private hands. The psychiatric hospital in Cork, St. Mary's, was sold into private hands for a good deal of money. Magnificent apartments are now being sold on the site for considerable sums. The land in Killarney is very valuable and is needed for housing for the elderly, individuals with Alzheimer's disease and the disabled, and for sports facilities for young people. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Batt O'Keeffe, who is from the constituency next to mine, to assist in this regard. His colleagues in the Progressive Democrats will sell off HSE lands into private hands for private hospitals but we will lie down in front of the gates of St. Finian's Hospital in Killarney to prevent the lands from being sold into private ownership.

The local authorities do not want to offer a reasonable price for the land.

The local authority should not have to pay for the land. It is State land owned by me and the Minister of State, as taxpayers.

The Deputy should talk to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

It should be available to the people and no issue about costs should arise. What happened in Cork was a disgrace and the people of Killarney will not be so foolish as to let their good facility, the land at St. Finian's, be sold in the same manner. The time allowed for this motion is almost up, but I wish to state that the St. Finian's lands are in public ownership for the benefit of the people of Killarney.