Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Bill 2016 [Seanad]: Report Stage (Resumed)

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:
In page 5, to delete lines 30 to 33 and substitute the following:
“(3) (a) Subject to paragraphs (b) and (c), this Act comes into operation on such day or days as the Minister may appoint by order or orders either generally or with reference to any particular purpose or provision and different days may be so appointed for different purposes or different provisions.
(b) Sections 32 to 36, sections 45, 46 and 50 come into operation on the day following the passing of this Act.
(c) Part 5 comes into operation on the passing of this Act.”.
- (Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government)

We were on Report Stage and the House agreed to return to Committee Stage and I will call on the Minister to resume. I gave an assurance to the following Deputies last night that I would call them: Deputies Pat Casey, Thomas Pringle, John McGuinness, Brian Stanley, Dessie Ellis, Catherine Connolly, Bernard Durkan, Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins. I call on the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney.

Even though it is not common to revert to Committee Stage from Report Stage, it does sometimes happen to tease through the detail of an issue and to make sure we are not making a mistake on a key issue such as the one we were discussing last night. Our team worked late into the night last night and we got advice from the Attorney General's office this morning to make sure that what we are proposing is constitutional and legally sound.

We have made a change to the proposal of last night. People asked us to consider what we were proposing in terms of trying to address some of the initial concerns raised by other parties. There were consequential other issues raised with the proposed amendment. The amendment that I think most people should have got this morning that I will be introducing when we come to my amendment No. 55 as an amendment to the amendment is now going to effectively revert to an equation very similar to the original equation. The effect of that will be that anybody who is a tenant whose area comes into a rent pressure zone by designation, which will be the case for Dublin and Cork immediately and other areas thereafter, will be sure that at the end of that two-year tenancy, the tenant will not face more than a 4% rent increase and thereafter there will be the possibility of no more than a 4% increase annually while the designation remains intact.

I think it was Deputy Pearse Doherty who said the consequence of last night's proposal may be that if there is a change in tenancy within a 12 month period, there may be the possibility of a rent increase up to 4%. That is no longer there because regardless of tenancies and when rent reviews happen, a property cannot have a rent increase of more than 4% in a 12 month period. It is on a pro rata basis. If there is a change after six months, it is only half of 4% because it is half of one year, which would be 2%. The key issue raised was that we do not want to try to create any incentive to end tenancies early within rent pressure zones in order to avail of getting an earlier rent increase of up to 4%.

While there is a series of restrictions to prevent tenants having to leave their properties, we need to do all we can with this formula to ensure that the consistency of the political commitment is delivered in a way that is constitutional for landlords and tenants and legally sound and clear. Effectively, the formula is R x (1+0.04x10/m), whereby "m" will be defined as either (a) or 24 where section 24C1(a) applies, which is a tenancy carrying over into a rent pressure zone until the first review happens. Effectively, over a two-year period it will be a maximum of a 2% increase, which is no more than 4% over that two years and thereafter, after that review, 12 in any other case.

Effectively, that means that on a pro rata basis, a property rental charge cannot be increased by more than 4% per annum, regardless of whether the landlord decides to have a rent review after 18 months or two years. It will be based on a pro rata basis. If there is a review after six months, for whatever circumstances, only an increase of half of the yearly allowance of 4% will be allowed, which is 2%.

On balance, we have addressed the issues that were raised by Deputies and I hope that we will have the opportunity to get back into Report Stage, move on and try to progress the legislation.

Yesterday evening, as the Minister is aware, we were bogged down with this issue. I appreciate the fact the Minister took some time to review it. The formula that the Minister has produced seems to address the concerns. The initial formula that was provided had the unintended consequence that the first review that would come as somebody entered a pressure zone could result in an increase of up to 8%, and that was not the Minister's stated objective. The amendment which then addressed that left the other side open, in that a vacancy that might occur could have a bigger increase than was intended. In the Minister's amendment today, he has broken it down into two parts. They addressed the two specific issues. I thank the Minister for taking the time to review with his staff last night the issues and for bringing forward what I think is a workable proposal to address the two concerns that were expressed last night.

It is important to note that as tenants enter their first review in a designated pressure zone and are doing so after two years, the maximum increase they will face is a 4% increase, equating to 2% per annum for the preceding years. Whether a property is vacant for a period or not, the second part of the Minister's equation ensures that going forward from that review, no more than a 4% per annum increase can be imposed. They were the stated objectives that the Minister had yesterday. The original proposal and the first amendment did not achieve that objective but I believe the measures we have seen this morning do achieve it. I do not want to delay Committee Stage any further.

I thank the Minister for the briefing this morning and I thank the departmental staff for their work over the night. On consideration of the proposition that is now in front of us, I am convinced that the new formula does not provide for an 8% increase in the first year. On that basis, I welcome the fact that the Minister has corrected the proposal. I also emphasise the point I made yesterday, which is that when officials in the Department are put under undue political pressure to deliver complex legislation in short periods of time, things of this magnitude happen. What I urge the Minister to do, as we are going to deal with more complex legislation next year, is please to learn from what has happened over the last week in order that we do not return to a situation early next year in which we have similar problems with future legislation. I am satisfied the issue that I and others raised is dealt with in the proposal here in front of us.

I thank the Minister for the clarification and the change to the formula. I seek clarification on the second point the Minister made in which he spoke about a situation in which the tenancy changes mid-year. I want to be clear about what would happen in those circumstances. The Minister said that a 2% increase would apply to six months and there would then be a 2% increase for the other six months. Presumably the 4% annual increase would apply and would continue to apply. There would not be a 2% annual increase and another 2% increase because it must be a 4% maximum increase for the entire year. I seek clarification that, where a 4% increase has already kicked in for the first six months, there will be no further increase for the second six months.

The new formula, which is really reverting back to the original and tweaking it, does address the concerns that both Deputy Ó Broin and myself had raised with regard to the Minister's own stated objective, which is to have a 4% annual increase in rent pressure zones. Vacancies that were filled would be a part of that also, in that the 4% would be annualised in those areas. We wish to point out to the Minister again that our proposal, and the best proposal, is to link the rate to the consumer price index. The amendment that the Minister tabled yesterday would have meant that properties in their first year would have seen up to an 8% increase. The amendment to the amendment that the Minister tabled last night, as Deputy Ó Broin and I pointed out to the Minister, had the effect that all new tenancies would have been able to increase the rent by 4%, despite the fact that they may have just increased the rent in a previous tenancy a month ago to 4%. There is no doubt that the new amendment closes those two loopholes down. That is to be welcomed, despite the fact that we still believe this is the wrong approach for the Government to take.

I made the point last night that it beggars belief what Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael were talking about in all those hours yesterday when they missed such a crucial point that renters across the city and in other pressure points that will be designated in the future were going to see a maximum of an 8% increase. Last night, the amendment did not recognise the fact that all new tenancies would have seen another potential 4% increase, regardless of when the last increase took place. I wish to commend the Minister's officials and I wish to be associated with the words of Deputy Ó Broin in terms of what I believe was the unfair pressure put on officials. At the end of the day, it is not the Minister who writes the legislation. The Minister gives directions. I would not like to have been an official in the Department last night, given the pressure of coming up with an amendment, having to deal with another amendment, introducing it at Report Stage, reverting back to Committee Stage and all of that type of nonsense.

Even at this point, I have just seen the new amendment in the last few minutes. I recognise that there has been a briefing attended by our spokesperson Deputy Ó Broin. I welcome that. That is the right type of approach from Government and I believe it is a mark of this Minister's performance in his ministry in terms of the consultation he engages in with his colleagues in Opposition parties and Independents. That is to be welcomed. However, we still do not have ample time to scrutinise this in detail. There is no guarantee that we have not picked up on unintended consequences that we may have picked up if we had what would be the normal process in which amendments would be tabled three or four days before Committee Stage and then be allowed to progress to Report Stage.

I wish to add the caveat that this is not the right way to deal with the situation, which at the end of the day is about thousands of euro that renters will have to pay when these rent reviews come in. That goes back to the substance of why we disagree with this approach, which is basically allowing for rent certainty for landlords, in that they can increase rent by 4% year on year. At least through our intervention in Sinn Féin, we have ensured that it will not be an 8% increase in the first year or an additional 4% every time a new tenancy is arranged.

While we will also be arguing when we go back to Report Stage for our preferred option, which is clearly to link increases to the consumer price index, we are satisfied as well that this change will address the issues that were raised last night. I too wish to thank the staff and the Minister for the briefing this morning and the work that was carried out overnight. I believe it does address the concerns that were raised by colleagues in the House.

I wish to make one further point. This is clearly quite complex legislation. For those of us in the House who have been briefed and have gone through this, we have an understanding now of what exactly these formulae mean, but for the people who are trying to figure how their rent is going to be increased, it is very complex. Clearly, a right is not a right unless a person can actually exercise it and understand it. It is important that there will be clarity in explaining this to people. I know the Minister has indicated that there will be explanations on the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, website etc. However, I believe it is really important that it is made clear on the floor of the House that there will be clarity for the people who really matter, which are the people who are under pressure in all of this.

As with others, the People Before Profit and the Anti-Austerity Alliance do not agree that trying to limit rents to annual increases of 4% is sufficient to deal with the problem. We will get back to that matter when we return to Report Stage. I would say to Deputy Pearse Doherty that, with respect, I also do not agree that linking rents to the consumer price index, CPI, as was suggested, is the best proposal. We need a rent freeze and we need to link rents to affordability. We will debate that again. I want it on record that some of this debate has, quite frankly, been framed around the figures of 4% and 2% and the argument about the CPI has not had much of a look-in. The arguments relating to rent freezes or affordability have had absolutely no look-in during the debates. Two potential loopholes were revealed last night in the stated ambition of the Minister. In fairness, he responded to that and his officials have worked very hard. He has engaged with the Opposition and, through his efforts and those of his officials, those loopholes have been closed off. The stated intention of the legislation is now the effect of the legislation and that is to be welcomed. However, what has happened does not inspire confidence about what else may be hidden in the Bill in the context of unintended consequences. Deputy Pearse Doherty made that point and I made it last night. Given the complexity, detail and range of issues covered in the legislation - and in view of the late stage at which much of the information has become available - I am concerned that we just do not know what will be the consequences of some of the other provisions it contains. I hope that is not the case but I suspect that it may well prove to be.

During our consultation with the Minister this morning, Deputy Coppinger and I raised the question of whether - even with the revised formula which closes off the loopholes - what is contained in the legislation is completely unintelligible to anybody who is not willing to put intense energy into trying to understand the dense and complex language and formulae used. This has to be made intelligible for the ordinary tenant and landlord and for the officials of the RTB so that it can actually be understood and implemented. The Minister made a pledge before our meeting that this would be the case. It is vitally important that this is put into plain language so that the legislation will be capable of being understood. The substantive issue can be dealt with on Report Stage but it is imperative to frame what is proposed in plain language. This debate has demonstrated the absolute importance of forensic oversight of legislation. In this case, and in a number of other recent instances, Deputies have been placed in an invidious position. As a result of time constraints and the fact that information is arriving late, the pressure is on us. Should we drop the detailed scrutiny of legislation in which we are supposed to be engaging because we are under pressure to get things passed? I do not know what we are going to do about this. Sometimes the pressure is inevitable but what is happening is giving rise to serious problems. I suspect that the only way it can be dealt with is by more engagement at an earlier stage on the details of such important and complex legislation, rather than having to deal with the details in a very compressed timeframe at the very end of the process.

Last night, Deputy Curran sought clarification on how subsections (3)(a) and (4) will be applied. The section in which the latter are to be found deals with the actual criteria. We said earlier in the week that those criteria are too limited but we were informed that there was no way they could be changed. It turns out, however, that the subsection actually means that tenants can be charged more than the Minister actually indicated on Tuesday. He responded last night by saying that this was a drafting error and sought time to correct it. A recommittal of the Bill was recommended by my colleagues in order to allow him to make the changes in respect of said error. I would like to believe the Minister - and I have to believe him - but he must understand that one could genuinely be forgiven in finding it difficult to accept that this was just a drafting error. While those on this side of the House and all other Deputies were given the Bill late on Tuesday evening, the Minister and his staff have been working on it for the past few weeks. It could be said, from my perspective, that the Minister was inflexible in terms of taking any amendments from Fianna Fáil on the criteria he has set and which we believe may prove to be too restrictive. We are, however, prepared to wait to allow the further review to which the Minister has committed to take place by June.

The Minister had indicated that it was not procedurally possible to move amendments on the rate or the restrictive criteria. On foot of the drafting error, the procedures have now been changed. The Minister said that he had intensive talks with his own officials and those from the Departments of Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform prior to the Bill being produced. He would also have had access to the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Parliamentary Legal Adviser. He must accept and acknowledge that it is exceptionally difficult not to believe that it was an intentional error or, at the very least, an earlier intention to charge tenants more. As other Deputies said last night, it is not just simply a typo. We are not talking about a comma or an apostrophe.

That would be found in the blacks.

It shows again, and I acknowledge that others have also said this, that ramming legislation through over a 48 to 72-hour period is not best or safe practice. Some would argue that Fine Gael was too busy claiming victory rather than actually concentrating on how its rushed legislation could be improved in order to allow more tenants to avail of rent certainty rather than having a limited Bill to two cities and let all the others-----

Has somebody filled Deputy Cowen in?

Has somebody filled Deputy Cowen in on what was happening?

This debate is on Committee Stage not Second Stage.

I have something to say to the Deputies - if they do not object - in the context of Sinn Féin's response to the Committee Stage. Sinn Féin rightfully asked that we take this stage in order to discuss this matter and allow all Members the opportunity to contribute or to respond to some of the commentary that was made in dealing with the issues at hand.

Somebody is rattled.

So, no matter what noise-----

(Interruptions).

-----is made by the empty vessels to my right, there is no rent certainty in the North either.

The empty vessels that spotted the mistakes.

There is no rent certainty in the North and Sinn Féin is in Stormont. We are not.

(Interruptions).

There is no rent certainty in the North and I suppose there are no water charges in the North either.

I would like to place on record the fact that I have no problem taking criticism from any side of the House when such criticism is legitimate. I will not, however, take pontificating lectures from Deputies, particularly when they did not even bother their barney putting in a submission on the rental strategy in the first instance. That is for the attention of Deputy Shortall, who said that I and my party should be ashamed. This is despite the fact that Fianna Fáil entered into the process in a professional manner that befits the vote we got in response to the Minister's recommendations for a public consultation on a rental strategy. Deputy Shortall and her party, of which there are two leaders and two members, did not see fit to make a submission at all-----

This is more suitable to the plinth.

-----but had the audacity to come into the Chamber to try to tell someone that they should be ashamed of themselves for participating-----

On a point of order-----

-----and for having 83% of their recommendations approved.

Is Deputy Cowen willing to give way to allow me hear two points of order?

On a point of order, this contribution is more relevant to the plinth.

The Deputy need not worry any more. I will leave it at that for the moment-----

Go out and make your speeches to the media. We have a serious job of work to do here-----

-----and I will participate in the Report Stage debate as I am entitled to do as per the amendments I have tabled.

-----and he is coming in here pontificating and making speeches he should not be making.

In fairness to Deputy Cowen, he was at the Committee Stage debate-----

On a point of order, this rant is not relevant to the recommitted amendment we have been debating. All of us here are committed to doing serious business. We were here for hours yesterday. We took our opportunities to speak. Deputy Cowen was not here; he did not speak.

He was here for a very short period of time.

I most definitely was here. Do not attempt to misguide anybody here-----

He did not take the opportunity the rest of us took-----

-----or anybody who might be paying attention to these proceedings.

-----and now he is taking up time that could be better used.

We have very important business-----

I will be here tonight too, and next week if I have to.

Please, Deputy Cowen. We have very important business to transact so we might try to avoid getting involved in political charges.

I am responding to one.

The next speaker is Deputy Pearse Doherty.

On a point of order, if the Minister is going to respond I would ask for clarification on the second element of this.

I am happy to respond whenever-----

Minister, Deputy Pearse Doherty is the last Member offering.

When responding I ask the Minister to address a question. I have not had an opportunity to read the definitions under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 Act but it deals with his amendment that is before us, what is now amendment No. 33. This would have been averted if the amendment to the amendment went through because this section was deleted, but now that it has been put back in I want to ask a question on the definition of "t", which is the number of months between either the current rent in place and it being reviewed. I am not concerned about that part of it. I am concerned about the second part of it where a dwelling was previously let, a new tenancy is going into the dwelling, the time between that and how "t" is defined. I will read it into the record. It states: "Where paragraph (a) does not apply but the dwelling was previously let, other than in circumstances to which subsection (5) applies...", and the key part states: "...the date rent became payable under a tenancy for the dwelling as last so let, and (b) the date the rent for the tenancy of the dwelling will come into effect..." My understanding of the Minister's intention is that if there was a difference of six months between the date a previous tenant was paying rent and the date the new tenant would be paying rent, the time would be six months and so on.

My question is on the definition of "tenancy" in terms of the date rent became payable under a tenancy for the dwelling as so let. If I took out a tenancy four years ago and had it reviewed two years later, and the rent increased, what date would we be talking about because the legislation references the date rent became payable under a tenancy. My view, and I am open to correction, is that the tenancy is the day I took out the tenancy and the review is part of a clause. For example, if we look at the definition of "r", which is a more appropriate definition and in my view should have been included in the definition of "t", "r" is the amount of rent last set under a tenancy for the dwelling. It stipulates that it is the last amount of rent. My concern is that if I took out a tenancy four years ago and had that reviewed two years later, under this definition I would be concerned that the date rent became payable would be the date four years ago. If that were the case, and I am open to correction on this, that would allow for "t" to be calculated as 48, and 48 over 12 would equal four, which would allow for a 16% rent increase in those circumstances.

My understanding is the former. It is from the last time a review took place because it is about the calculation of the rent. If someone took out a tenancy four years ago and had a review two years ago, it is the calculation from the last time the rent was reviewed. That is my understanding.

With regard to Deputy Shortall's question, once a rent pressure zone is designated, it is the property that cannot see the rent increase more than 4% pro rata in a year. There cannot be another rent review within 12 months of that and when the next rent review takes place, whether it is in 12 or 18 months time, it will be on a pro rata basis since the last review, no more than 4%-----

-----annualised. If that is six months, it is 2%. If it is 18 months, it is 6%, but it is annualised after that, depending on when the review takes place versus when the last review took place. That is how we get over the issue raised last night by one or two Deputies about incentivising change in tenants.

Can I respond to some of the comments made? A number of Deputies raised this issue last night.

Deputy John Curran raised it and I think Deputy Ruth Coppinger raised it as well. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan also raised concerns. A number of people raised concerns and we met those Members this morning to go through the reasoning behind the change in numbers. The point Deputy Boyd Barrett made is right. The normal person looking at this equation, given the complexity of it, will not easily understand the consequences for them. Once this legislation is passed we will need to have a proper communications process to make sure that everybody understands their rights and responsibilities and that the Residential Tenancies Board acts as it should to provide balanced, independent and fair advice to ensure that everybody understands the consequences.

With regard to the pressure my Department, the officials and the Bills Office have been under, and the Bills Office has been under a lot of pressure this week, I want to acknowledge that I am fortunate, as a Minister, to have an extraordinarily professional and committed team of people who have been working on this legislation.

It is important to say, when people are questioning the process here, that the only thing being added to this process on Report Stage is the issues that are linked to the rental strategy around rent predictability and so on. All of the other issues in the Bill have been teased out in the normal way. In fact, that started in the Seanad when it went through a process in that House. The Bill then came to the Dáil. We had Second Stage, a long Committee Stage and now Report Stage. The reason this group of amendments is being introduced on Report Stage is because my judgment was that the time between a policy decision on something as sensitive as the private rental market and actually implementing the consequences of that decision when one is choosing to intervene in the market in the way we are doing for the first time ever should be as short as possible for obvious reasons because we do not want people changing behaviour anticipating a change in policy. There is a reason we are trying to do this quickly, and I believe that reason is sound. That puts us, as legislators, under pressure in terms of the scrutiny process and also my team in terms of the amendments and the changes that are needed. However, it is important that we deliver on that pressure and get the outcome we all want at the end of today's debate.

I raised the issue of the provision for an 8% increase publicly yesterday morning and in my contribution to the debate yesterday evening. Regrettably, the Social Democrats-Green Party grouping did not get any notification of a briefing this morning, nor did we get any material. As of now, we have nothing other than what the Minister spoke about this morning. It is regrettable that we were excluded from that briefing and we would like an opportunity provided to us as early as possible to have a briefing-----

-----and we would like the written presentation as well.

To be clear, there was not a written presentation per se. I asked the people I had remembered raising this issue last night if they wanted an informal briefing this morning before we resumed the debate. There was nothing beyond that. They just got the amendment and a verbal explanation from me, but I can arrange that for Deputy Shortall afterwards. There is no problem with that.

I seek clarity on the new formula.

To be very clear, I do not want to delay these proceedings, and the issue has been well rehearsed by my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, but there is genuine concern about the definition of tenancy. I listened to what the Minister said and I know he stated his understanding. It will be a considerable time before we vote on this amendment. I ask that the Minister uses this time to get a legal interpretation from the Department so we are sure on this. Last night, I took issue with intended and unintended consequences. I genuinely believe this would be an unintended consequence. As I stated, according to the definition, "r" is the amount of rent last set under a tenancy, therefore making it clear-----

I take the point of the Deputy is making. The note I have is our understanding is that the date the rent became payable means the date the rent was last set. We can check this and confirm it later.

I would appreciate that. All it would take is a minor amendment regarding the date rent became last set under a tenancy, which would be consistent with what was stated earlier and which would allow-----

We will check it.

I thank the Minister.

I do not want to delay, but I want to respond on the process, the pressure and the Minister's reasons. To be honest, if the Minister looks at how this has played out, it has been a mistake to link the planning legislation element of the Bill to the residential tenancies aspect of it. I take the Minister's point on wanting to deal with the rent certainty issue in fairly short order, but he could have had a residential tenancies Bill and introduced measures on Committee Stage. Having the two issues thrown in together has intensified the pressure and mixed up two issues in a way that has made this very unwieldy and, frankly, difficult, and has made the pressure all the greater on all of us. It is a matter for consideration. It is even problematic in terms of our ultimate attitude towards the legislation. We have indicated we would go further than the Minister, but any of us would welcome anything at all to improve the rental situation. Even if we agreed that what the Minister is proposing is better than nothing, it is tied to other measures with which many of us fundamentally disagree with regard to planning. This is very unfortunate considering the urgency and importance of the rental issue. I make this as a procedural point on how the process of this has played out.

Like other speakers I do not wish to delay the proceedings. I was here last night during the course of the debate. The only issue about which I have a concern, and I have already expressed this to the Minister, is I have an allergy in respect of equations. The Ceann Comhairle and I will remember that we had an equation to determine eligibility for local authority loans in the past with disastrous consequences. It was virtually impossible to understand what the equation meant and different people had different interpretations. A line was taken from this by the building societies and lending agencies and we know the consequences there. Having regard to this experience over a long number of years and having voiced a strong opinion against the use of the equation at the time I would always add a chapter or text to explain an equation in clear and simple terms-----

-----in such a way as to make absolutely certain that no amount of interpretation from any quarter by any group, legal personality or non-legal personality could change what it was meant to do in the first place. I say this not as a criticism but because of sad experience in the past which I would not like to go through again.

This may have already been clarified, but I need more clarity. If the Bill is passed today does it become law tomorrow?

It must go to the Seanad.

It will go to the Seanad on Tuesday and then the President must sign it. We are anxious to get it done before the end of the year so it will be in place for the new year.

This relates to my question. What happens to tenants who have already been given notice by their landlords their rent will increase by 10% in January? What happens to this agreement? Will this law apply to these landlords or not? They have given notice but the rent has not effectively risen yet.

I will call the Minister to respond and conclude.

Deputy Smith's question is a fair one but it is a separate issue to this. My understanding is if notice is given then the process of review has already begun if it is at the end of a two year period. I will check this for the Deputy, but my understanding is that once notice is given our legislation cannot supersede the process. If the process of a review has already begun it will take its course. It is for all new reviews that begin once the rent pressure zones are designated, which is why I am so anxious to get the designations in place as soon as we can. I will get the Deputy a written response on this so that she has it.

It is important to clarify it because there is a cohort people who are expecting rent rises of 10% and beyond in January.

I am giving the Deputy the understanding I have, which is that if a notice has been given of a review, the process of the review has begun and we cannot retrospectively change it. This is my understanding. I asked that question and this is the answer I received. This is why the sooner we get the rent pressure zone designations in, the sooner people will be protected from increases in rent that are unsustainable.

That concludes the Committee Stage deliberation on amendment No. 3a to amendment No. 55 therefore we must return to Report Stage.

I will try to stick to the rental amendment we are discussing. The rental sector is not working and is in crisis, as we know. It is a significant element of the housing problem. Less than a year ago, Fine Gael refused point blank to consider rent controls when the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, attempted to introduce them. It is through the work of Fianna Fáil that Fine Gael has finally conceded and begun to act, with a cap of 4%. Fianna Fáil's rental submission had 12 targeted actions and we have achieved progress on ten of them.

We continue to put housing at the top of our priority list, and as spokesperson I work closely with Deputy Barry Cowen to ensure the Government does not lose focus or water down the will of the Dáil to resolve the housing crisis. If these caps are quickly proved not to work Fianna Fáil is prepared to bring forward its own measures to bring greater certainty to tenants.

We also strongly believe there is a need to introduce tax incentives for landlords to relieve the considerable pressures on them. Rent controls need to be balanced with maintaining rent supply. I agree this is a delicate balancing act. The vast majority of landlords are responsible and anxious to keep their tenants. I will not demonise landlords for short-term political gain. A total of 88% of landlords own only one property. We need to transition from this unsustainable model.

Today is an historic first. These are the first rent certainty measures in the history of the State. Fianna Fáil will continue to listen to the people and put their needs first. There was a period of time yesterday when it looked as though we might not debate the Bill, which would have been a failure of the Dáil. I welcome that at least we have reached this point and I hope that from the debate so far we have learned further lessons on the fact the Dáil demands greater consultation on proposed housing measures from the Government. I hope future proposals are not handled in this way.

I also wish to take this opportunity to correct some misinformation that was stated twice in the House in the last 24 hours by Deputy Ó Broin. Let there be no doubt about it, Fianna Fáil did not get the details of these rental proposals prior to their general release. I was with Deputy Ó Broin in the committee when we were all presented with the amendments. They were on our desks when we returned to the committee room after a division in the Chamber.

I work closely with Deputy Cowen on our housing strategy. We are a party team tasked with delivering Fianna Fáil's policy on housing. Policy delivery, not ego, is our goal and it will remain our goal. Deputy Cowen and Fianna Fáil are solely focused on getting housing solutions delivered as best we can in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We are not interested in grandstanding gestures or personalised name calling. Deputies who continue to follow such failed politics are condemning themselves. I welcome the Minister conceding that the major cities of Galway, Waterford and Limerick, along with the commuter counties of Wicklow, Meath, Kildare and Louth, must be assessed urgently and that this will take place in January. As a result of our work, up to 100,000 homes will now be protected against out-of-control rent increases. This is a start but we must build on it, no pun intended.

I have some reservations regarding the rental pressure zones. The Minister claims that the data are not available to create rental pressure zones outside the major urban centres. Having used the RTB website regularly, I believe it is possible to identify clearly the areas with increases that meet the criteria. Commuter belt towns such as Bray and Greystones can clearly be seen to have unsustainable rent increases. Equally, I have concerns about the Minister's proposal to look at it by local authority area and getting down to that level of detail. Consider a county such as Wicklow. While it is easy to recognise that the Bray and Greystones area meets the target, the average rent in more rural areas with towns such as Wicklow and Arklow will probably not meet it even though the core towns have huge rental pressures. That is also the case with Blessington on the other side of Wicklow. It is beside Tallaght and is under immense rental pressure, but in the local area of west Wicklow the rent will probably not qualify.

To conclude, I repeat my assertion that the Members of the House will be judged on their actions on the housing crisis. This is the first Bill to tackle that crisis, although more will be required. I also repeat my party's commitment to working constructively to ensure measures are working correctly or as intended. If a policy is not working, it must be fixed quickly. A common-sense approach is required. I acknowledge the Minister's acceptance of our amendments Nos. 3 and 4 to amendment No. 68.

It is good to get back to Report Stage after all that time and to get back to discussing the amendments after dealing with the raft of formulas that came through in amendments to amendments to amendments and so forth.

The series of amendments we are discussing deal with so-called rent certainty. However, the only certainty is that rents will go up. The only unintended consequence of this Bill is that it might ease some of the pressure on the housing issue. That certainly would be unintended, because I do not believe that any of the agreements, formulas or strategies in terms of the rent pressure zones and so forth are about dealing with rents or assisting people with rents. It is about politically striking a balance on the highest amount of rent increase allowable that will be acceptable to landlords and institutional investors in order that they can continue to maximise their returns from rents, thus further penalising citizens who are already struggling to pay those rents.

In his explanations yesterday, and we also heard the same during Leaders' Questions, the Minister spoke about the number of landlords who have left the rental market in recent years. A figure of 23,000 or 24,000 was mentioned. However, since 2011 the number of tenancies in the State has increased by more than 43,000. The landlords mentioned were probably all in the buy-to-let sector or were unintentional landlords. Indeed, there are many people who bought apartments at a hugely inflated price in 2004 and 2005, had families since then and were obliged to move to a rental property and rent the apartment at a rent that was far less than the amount of the mortgage repayment. Despite being less, however, it is still unaffordable for the tenants concerned. These are the people who have probably left the rental market as a result of selling those properties at a huge loss or having them taken into receivership or having them repossessed by the various mortgage agencies in the State.

I believe this is really about ensuring rents continue to increase in order that the Government can attract international investors, so-called pension funds and speculators to buy rental properties across the State and, as David Ehrlich of IRES REIT said, ensuring they make profits that have never been seen elsewhere in the world's rental market. It is also about ensuring house prices are boosted and continue to rise in order that the balance sheets of the banks are massaged to make the banks appear more solvent than they are. That is what this exercise is about. It is not about assisting renters, making housing affordable for people or stopping the increasing incidence of family homelessness. If it was about dealing seriously with those issues, the Minister would not take this road of ensuring rents will increase by 4% each year for the next three years. We saw what happened when the changes were made in the budget for first-time buyers through the Revenue Commissioners. House prices went up overnight.

On the passing of this legislation rent is guaranteed to increase by 4% per year for people who cannot afford it. That should be seen in light of a recent report published by Savills Ireland which projected that rents in Dublin would be stagnant in the next year and that there was potential for them to fall rather than increase. However, this Bill will ensure they increase by 4%. That shows that the purpose of the Bill is not to deal with the crisis. Its purpose is to ensure institutional investors get massive returns, to attract them to set up here and to massage the banks' balance sheets, not to deal with citizens' difficulties. That is the big failing of the legislation. It is the big failing of Fine Gael because that party is completely market driven and beholden to the market. Fianna Fáil is similar. The only argument between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is whether rents will increase by 2% or 4% next year. The last two days of brinkmanship were about how much the increase in rents should be.

If the Government was serious about dealing with this issue, it would propose a rent freeze. If it was half serious about it, it would propose that the rent increase be linked to the consumer price index, CPI. However, the Government is not serious about it. It is sure and serious about one thing: ensuring there are exorbitant returns for investors in the rental market and getting more investors into that market. The reason that only Dublin was designated a rent pressure zone and not the commuter belt was to get those investors to move to the commuter belt and to stimulate them to buy rental properties there. If by some miracle at the end of this people happen to stay in their homes, that is the unintended consequence.

Before proceeding, I should point out that eight more Members wish to contribute. It is most important that everybody gets an opportunity to contribute, but there are 116 more amendments or groups of amendments to be considered. We must be conscious of the time available today, the job of work to be done and whether there will be a need to return on Monday to consider matters further. It would be helpful if Members could focus specifically on the subjects of the amendments we are discussing. There are 18 in this group. I call Deputy McGuinness.

I take the Ceann Comhairle's advice but a number of us were sitting here all day yesterday listening to the debate and while we are focused on a particular aspect of the Bill now and there are many other amendments, this is an important aspect. I suggested to the Minister last night that he might withdraw the Bill at that stage and get the house in order and then come back in. I think he misunderstood what I said. I was not asking him to completely withdraw the Bill I just wanted to get it sorted because I felt the process last night in terms of the consideration of the amendments and recommitting the Bill to Committee Stage sent out the wrong message. For me, it was the best worst example of this new politics. This House is almost dysfunctional, as is the Government. We are dealing with this issue now, which is a major one for thousands of people - 120,000 people are on our housing waiting lists. We are concentrating on it. Regardless of whether we were in favour or against the Bill in the first place, because of the market reactions, we now must have the Bill. Otherwise rents will go completely out of control. We have to accept the Bill. We are discussing how there would be increases in rents when there are many other aspects of the Bill that are equally as important.

A voice I have not heard loud enough in the debate is that of the local authorities. I suggested in the context of the planning aspects of the Bill and the involvement of local authorities that they know their housing lists, or at least they should, and they also know, together with the HSE, the number of sites that are within their counties that could be immediately developed for specific housing projects or generally for local authority houses. Regardless of what formula the Minister uses to try to control the rents and dabble in the market, which I believe is wrong but now we have to do so, the real answer to the housing crisis is to be build local authority houses. There are 3,500 people on the housing list in Kilkenny city and county. Seven houses are being allocated over the next few weeks. Local authorities have not been engaged with this process for the past ten years. They failed to recognise the fact that increasingly, more people were coming onto the housing lists and that they did not offer any solutions. They pushed those people into the housing assistance payment scheme, the rental accommodation scheme, or the rent allowance scheme and they got caught up in that market approach and did not rely on what they should have relied, namely, the provision of local authority houses. There are many problems in the country, many issues regarding small businesses and builders and this is one area where local authority houses could be constructed for those on the housing lists and builders could be brought in to build those houses and create an activity in the local economy that would have positive effects, but nobody seems to be addressing that. The Minister is saying that millions of euro are being allocated to local authorities but in most local authority areas we do not see the type of activity that would be equal to the amount of money being allocated. The problem seems to be continuing to grow.

There are issues regarding local authorities bringing forward Part VIII proposals where they are trying to build houses and councils are turning down those housing projects. If one examines why that is happening, one will note that there is a very poor planning process in place which causes councillors to protect the different existing housing estates by preventing large-scale houses being built. In a way they are protecting future tenants because some of the proposed plans are for the construction of matchbox size units which will not suit the people for whom they are intended and they will cause social problems in the future. I would have liked to have seen a great deal of this debate concentrate on what we had in place to have houses constructed and ask why it is not working and examine the possibilities of an economic gain whereby local authorities would be given the power and funds to process all these applications and solve in each county their own housing problems. This Bill does not provide for that.

The Minister was asked in the course of the debate about the formula. Various Members raised the issue of an evidence base for this, from where the Minister is getting the information, what information he is using and so on. If he asked any local authority in the country about the rents being paid, they could tell him those figures because they are funding some of them. The monthly rent for a three-bedroomed house in Kilkenny has increased from €600 to €1,200 and in the case of similar house in Dublin it has increased from €1,200 to €2,500, depending on the location. Local authorities are not being used to the extent that they should be used and the information they have is not being used sensibly in the Government's general approach to this. It is not a case of one Department being able to solve all this.

The vulture funds and the banks were referenced in the debate last night. During the debate on Second Stage, I asked that we would have some form of agency, perhaps an existing housing agency, that would take from the banks the number of houses that are now earmarked for repossession and allow the families living in them to work out an arrangement, in the same way as business people did with NAMA, rather than the vulture funds buying them. Richie Boucher told us at a recent committee that bank repossessions will undoubtedly rise considerably. The same is the case with the AIB.

I am reluctant to interrupt the Deputy-----

-----but I must. What the Deputy is saying is very interesting but it more akin to a Second Stage contribution. We are on Report Stage and there is an obligation on us to focus on the specific amendments.

The Deputy seated in front of me is nodding in agreement with the Ceann Comhairle but I do not agree with the Chair on this aspect because yesterday Deputy Wallace was making the same points and others have made the same points.

It is not yesterday now, it is today and we are under certain pressures. There certainly would be a degree of latitude but I ask the Deputy to focus on the amendments rather than on the generality of the legislation.

To deal with the specifics, as I was saying-----

Could I say to be helpful in response to that and advise that we will happily schedule statements on the overall strategy when we resume in January so people will have an opportunity to raise all of these issues. I have no problem with that if that would be helpful to some Members.

The reason these issues are being raised is that they are ongoing. Nothing has been done about them.

A lot is being done.

No. If the Minister takes account of the number of houses in Dublin that are now vacant and owned by the banks-----

The Deputy cannot go into that general discussion.

I just spent €200 million buying 1,000 houses.

The Minister is working out a formula regarding rent increases, which was referred to committee, but the real issue is that this formula will allow rents to increase, yet a sufficient level of building is not taking place in the marketplace to ensure the market is controlled. We can see that in that 120,000 people on the housing waiting lists are still waiting. That is as relevant to Committee Stage and the debate on this Stage as any other matter, as is the case regarding the formula. How effective would the formula be if those vacant houses in Dublin were bought by the local authorities and allocated to those on the waiting lists?

The rents would come down because one would be putting into the market the necessary housing units, while activating the structures in local authorities and the banks to ensure these houses are made available.

That is exactly what we are doing.

No, it is not because last week we were told by Bank of Ireland there were some 600 units vacant in Dublin.

The housing agencies are buying them.

The Minister is standing over local authorities which do not deliver houses in their areas. They are bound by their planning rules and poor housing strategies. That is why people are stuck on the housing lists. There is no doubt the rent they will pay will increase significantly in properties which are, in my opinion in some cases, substandard. Then, one will have landlords who will be asked to bring properties up to a standard, in my opinion sometimes beyond the norm, who will be frightened away not by rent controls but by the local authorities attempting to be over-bureaucratic in that market.

While we may not be speaking to a specific amendment, it is all about that amendment which the Minister has brought forward with the formula to create rent control. The Minister is looking to the market for this. My argument, however, is that there are so many other options he could take, alongside this that would have an earlier effect of restoring some sort of stability in the rental market. He is not utilising local authorities or the banks in that regard. I am flagging for the Minister the fact that if he can bring some of the houses coming on-stream from the banks, in the context of repossessions, then he will keep people in their own homes. They will not have to be affected by a formula for rent or by landlords over-anxious to increase the rent. He is actually facing into a problem in 2017 that this formula will not control. The only way to control it is to have the structures in place to take in charge these houses and to provide the moneys and possibilities for people to live in a local authority house at that level.

In the main, we are talking about people who are renting, using the formula, watching the rent going up but they cannot qualify for local authority housing and still cannot qualify for a home loan. They are stuck in the rental market and in this dilemma. I would like to see something done about that block of people who are waiting to be housed and who are making a genuine effort.

It is similar to the mortgage-to-rent scheme. These are schemes which are in place and have not impacted on the market. There is too much bureaucracy in that scheme. Again, it relates to rent and these amendments. If that scheme was working, there would be far more people in it than there are currently. Bank of Ireland told us it had only 39 in that scheme. It was not able to tell whether they were approved. There are many more out there paying rent, having difficulty and not able to get into some of the schemes the Minister has created.

It is necessary to affect the course of this Bill to get the best possible results for those on the housing lists. I respect the fact the Minister wants us to speak to the amendment. However, everything he says about housing is affected by the amendment or can affect the outcome in terms of the availability of local authority houses.

Never have the views of so many been ignored by the Government and the Minister's colleagues in Fianna Fáil. Various homeless and housing bodies, such as the Peter McVerry Trust, Simon, Focus Ireland, Threshold, St. Vincent de Paul and many others, have pointed out consistently that the two main problems in this area are the building of social and affordable housing and the need for rent controls, or rent certainty as some people call it. The Minister has repeatedly said that he wants to avoid interference in the market. His Fianna Fáil colleagues have hinted at this time out of number. However, the Minister is applying a cap of 4% in one year and of 12% up to three years in designated areas. In effect, the Minister is interfering in the market.

Pressure from the Minister’s own ranks and Fianna Fáil’s, which have a disproportionate number of landlords among them, is obviously affecting him. Many of them have a conflict of interest in dealing with this. Normal guidelines, such as the consumer price index, which would see a drop in rents, are normally applied in most countries. There is also a good argument for affordability. Wages in the public and private sectors do not match these rent rises. Where in the near future will we have a 4% rise in wages or of 12% over a three-year period? That is a major problem. Most countries base their rents on one third or one quarter of the average industrial wage, which would be just over €600 in Ireland. Instead, our rent levels are multiples of this. In the Dublin North-West constituency, in Santry and Whitehall, rent for a three-bedroom house costs €1,700, while in Finglas it is in and around €1,500. How in God's name can people cope with those figures? This breaks down to between €350 and €500 a week in rent. Is the Minister in cloud cuckoo land? It does not make any sense. People on social welfare receive huge rent top-ups from the State. These are way beyond what should be paid out. I am not saying for one minute we can stop them now. We are in this situation and we need to address it. However, we need to look at the future because it is unsustainable the way we are going.

The Minister spoke about rent pressures in Cork city and Dublin city which initially led to these rent cap percentages. His Fianna Fáil colleagues then jumped in, smelling victory, and called for the Minister to include other areas such as Meath, Wicklow, Limerick and the commuter belts. Have they realised that there is only a guarantee that these will be assessed? There is no guarantee that these areas will be included.

Property companies and gurus in the property market have lauded the amount of profits they are getting in this country. The profits are massive. How in God's name do we entice industry, emigrants or others to Ireland? How do we create jobs when there is no encouragement for anyone to come here with these rents? It just does not make sense. We have relied on the private market for the past several years. We have this whole agenda of a drive to privatisation. The State must take control and get the local authorities to build social and affordable housing.

I agree. That is what is happening.

They are not doing enough because I can point to different areas where there is little or no activity in this regard. Three times in the past year Sinn Féin has put forward Bills supporting linkage between rents and the consumer price index, only to be refused and beaten down by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil.

Then there was last night’s charade where an amendment was tabled only to be amended itself. I am glad to see it has been corrected. I commend the officials who worked this out all night and came back with more acceptable figures, although only from the Minister's point of view.

Many people have tabled amendments supporting the whole idea of tying things to the CPI. Other people have mentioned affordability. The affordability argument is a good one. Since the death of Jonathan Corrie outside Leinster House two years ago, the Taoiseach has gone out and visited different places and made promises, yet the situation has gotten worse. It has gone so bad now that people are still dying on the streets. We have people self-harming and suffering from depression. It is unbelievable. The number of suicides has increased in this country. The other day when I met with the Samaritans in the hotel across the road, they highlighted the number of people coming to them, which is increasing year on year, as is the number of phone calls they are getting. It is appalling.

Builders also tell us that access to money is a major problem. They pointed out to me that it is a particular problem with building apartment blocks because while they can sell off houses one after the other, apartment blocks must be fully complete before they can get any returns. That means that money needs to be provided in a proper way. There are many solutions being put forward.

The Deputy is wandering.

I am not. I am sticking with the idea of-----

The Deputy is wandering away from the amendments again.

-----the rent controls and pointing out the problems in that area. We have also raised the issue of senior citizens and accommodation for older persons and the problem of the financial contributions which have virtually stopped. We also have a lot of bedsits lying idle in different areas. In my area, we have a lot of bedsits lying idle, which are not suitable for most people. We need to get them up and running. The Government put some money into it but there is not enough and it is not being put forward fast enough. I will mention the issue of planning briefly. I am straying a little bit. The whole idea of bypassing local authorities for what is normally a five week to six week process on 100 units or more is a dangerous one. The consultation with residents is extremely important. We need to be very careful. We are not gaining an awful lot. We are in an emergency situation. Many people here have put forward amendments. I would like the Minister to think about what he is doing. This will not work. The drive to privatisation is continuing in the local authorities and the mindset is there. Unfortunately that mindset is prevalent in Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. That is one of the major problems we are having in dealing with the local authorities. The people who are in charge of many of these are of the same mindset.

I thank Deputy Ellis. I am of the mind that we are still making Second Stage speeches. It might be helpful to the ongoing process if people would tell us which amendment they are speaking to. There are 18 in this group.

Bhí a fhios agam riamh go bhfuil difríocht mhór idir Béarla agus Gaeilge ach níor thuig mé riamh go dtí seo an difríocht idir Béarla an Rialtais agus a chomhghleacaithe i bhFianna Fáil agus muidne ar an taobh seo agus, níos tábhachtaí fós, muintir na tíre. Tá difríocht mhór ann maidir le teanga agus réiteach. I will try to be as brief as possible but I sat here all day yesterday and I am particularly interested in housing. I understand there is a big difference between Irish and English. They are two different languages. To this point, I really did not grasp the difference in the use of the English language. There is a difference between the English of the Government and its little imps on the left-hand side here, Fianna Fáil, who are really on the right, and ourselves and, most importantly, the people of the country. This strategy is being put forward as a solution and something that will control the rental market. I have listened and I would almost be driven to give up when I listen to the twist of language that is coming from the Government and Fianna Fáil and which is being put forward as a solution. I have read it and I have listened to all the faults that have been pointed out quite articulately by everybody on this side of the Chamber. We are making a mistake in saying it is a flawed document because it is a perfect document. There are no difficulties in this document except for the equation which the Minister has begun to sort out. There are no problems with this document if one realises who it is for. It is certainly not for people renting. This is for the landlords. This is for the friends of the Government. It is a perfect document. I must congratulate the Minister: comghairdeachas. Tá éacht déanta aige maidir le tiarnaí talún na tíre.

There is no security of tenure or affordability. In fact, the Minister is building in price increases. All of the evidence is there that the current rents are not affordable. The Minister is building in increases. He is fast-tracking evictions for those who will not be able to pay their rent. He is ignoring the evidence that not only people in mortgage arrears are evicted. According to research carried out by Dr. Padraic Kenna and a team of people in Galway, the highest number of evictions is of the group of people who cannot afford to pay their rent yet the Minister is building in an increase in rent. He is bringing in a strategy that is not based on evidence. There is absolutely no evidence as to why the Minister can justify 4%, 8% and 12%. The Minister has picked areas such as Dublin and Cork. Fianna Fáil is in government with Fine Gael. It is Fine Gael's partner in government. There is no sign of the Independents. We are all busy but Fine Gael's partners in government-----

Galway is very likely to qualify very soon, if the Deputy is interested in that.

That still does not make it right.

I will come back to Galway.

If the Deputy is interested in that. It will be the first time in the history of the State.

The Minister has done a strategy on two areas. His partners in government are taking credit for forcing the Minister to look at other areas. It seems to me he is not looking at the problem properly at all. He is doing it piecemeal. It is a strategy for landlords. It is a strategy to increase rents. If he is seriously interested in housing, he would have looked at the evidence and done an audit of each local authority. What audit has the Minister done of Galway city? What land does Galway City Council own at this moment? Does he know? We do not want an interchange but-----

I have been to Galway three times to get answers to those questions.

The Minister has not. On the last occasion, he confirmed to the Dáil that he was doing an audit of all the local authorities in the country.

It is on the way.

My experience is that we have bought hectares of zoned residential land. The Minister cannot tell me how many planning permissions. He cannot come back and say what the problems are and resolve those problems. Instead of that, as part of this amendment, as well as building in 4% and 4% and 4%, which is 12% over three years, in these rent pressure zones, which presumably will include Galway, he is also planning to hand over public land that we bought at astronomical prices to plan forward for housing. They are currently paying astronomical interest rates on that in Galway City Council as they are doing in other local authorities. We will now hand over that public land to developers to build on. It beggars belief. Are we speaking-----

We are not handing over anything.

I beg the Minister's pardon.

We are not handing over public land.

I have read the strategy. The Minister is making arrangements to use public land for leverage. The Minister uses lovely words which I call weasel words. I am not sure why the Minister is shaking his head. I wonder sometimes-----

Because the Deputy is not telling the truth.

I wonder sometimes-----

The Deputy is not interested in hearing the truth.

I am absolutely. I am really interested in hearing the truth.

The Deputy is interested in trying to spin it.

I am not into spin at all. If the Minister has noticed anything in ten months of my presence in this Chamber, he will know I abhor spin. I am allergic to spin.

Self-praise is no praise.

I have no time for it. When we are talking about truth, let us look at the housing problem. I have repeatedly said that in Galway, somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 people are on a waiting list. As we speak-----

That is why we have a housing strategy. It is to fix it.

We have housing crisis because excessive Governments, including the Minister's, have had a neoliberal philosophy which determined that the Government could not build houses directly. Year after year, in my experience as a councillor, the Government suspended housing construction programmes. The Minister asked me to be straight. I am being straight. Could the Minister deal with it in his reply?

Since 2009, we have not built a single social house in Galway, although houses were built under the voluntary schemes. One must ask why. The reason given was that funding had been suspended. Since then, we still have not built a house. There are plans to build houses and, if we are lucky, we might get 14 this year. Why was no house built during that period of time? Can the Minister acknowledge that by not building houses and balancing the market, the Government is actively contributing to and conniving with the housing crisis? Would the Minister admit it?

I agree with Deputy Seamus Healy on the need for the Government to declare a national emergency. He has asked for it as have I and other Dáil colleagues. Although there is a national housing emergency, the Government has not declared it. In Galway city, up to 15,000 people have been waiting since 2002. That is a crisis, and it is repeated throughout the country. In response, the Government is introducing a rental strategy which will worsen the situation. The Government has not done a proper analysis in the first place.

Before the Minister interrupted, I started to say that as I speak, applicants for housing in Galway city are receiving letters from the city council telling them that they must sign up to the HAP scheme and fill out the form by Friday, 13 January, symbolically. They are being told they have no choice but to sign up to the HAP scheme, that it is the only game in town. The legislation brought in by the previous Government, which this Government supports and has left in place, stipulates that once a person has received a HAP, the person is considered to be adequately housed and is removed from the housing waiting list.

If the person is lucky, depending on the local authority, his or her name is put on a transfer list. We have legislation that says the only game in town is HAP and that people must be removed from the waiting list, so the Government can say the housing list is being reduced. Nobody knows what legal status applicants on the transfer list have. It is entirely separate from the existing transfer list to transfer for overcrowding, etc. Although I have repeatedly asked the Minister to clarify this, it has not been clarified. How can we have legislation that says if a person is in receipt of a HAP, he or she is adequately housed and yet retain a legal responsibility to house the person? Tá rud amháin ag teacht salach ar an rud eile.

I have a specific question on the Housing Agency, which was established as an independent body in 2010. Could the Minister answer me, given that it is particularly important to me? Since 2010, has the Housing Agency ever reported back to the Minister about the growing housing crisis? Has it made suggestions to the Minister? Its vision is "to enable everyone to live in good quality, affordable homes in sustainable communities". Its mission is "to be housing experts driven by an understanding of the central role housing plays in people's quality of life and life changes". Its values are "independent influence-----

We are trying to deal with the amendments we have to deal with. I will have to try to answer the Deputy's question-----

This is the amendment on the Government's strategy to increase rents year-----

This is a Second Stage speech, which would be fine if this were Second Stage, but it is not.

I sat here yesterday. The fact that the Minister made a mistake - if we take the best interpretation - on an equation is not my problem. The fact that we are here on a Friday debating something that should not be debated in this manner is a problem which the Minister has created.

We are doing it because we recognise that there is a housing crisis that needs to be resolved.

The Minister has reduced the housing crisis to an equation. He forgets the meaning of the word "equation". Raising rents equates to homelessness. This is the essential equation we should examine.

There is a requirement, please, to focus on the amendment.

I understand, and I am speaking on the amendment to increase rents by 4% each year. In this context, I must give the background as to how the crisis has emerged. The Ceann Comhairle might have a particular interest. Given that we established a Housing Agency to be expert advisers, to advise, predict and help the Government, we must ask what the agency has been doing since it was established in 2010. The Housing Agency says it will "enable increased supply through promotion of quality and sustainability in housing delivery". If I am upsetting or boring the Minister, I apologise. Mechanisms were put in place to prevent a housing crisis and advise the Government that clearly have not worked.

Now, the Minister is here coming up with a solution and, funnily enough, I admire him for standing up for what he believes in, namely, the free market. This is in contrast to Fianna Fáil. The Minister believes the market will supply and that, given that it has difficulties on occasion, the Government must help the market. I can see where the Minister is coming from and his English is very clear on it. My difficulty is that I do not believe it will sort out the problem and I firmly believe it will make it worse. This is not based on opinions that are radically far left but based on what I have seen on the ground, my experience and report of the Think-tank on Action for Social Change, TASC. The Minister has not mentioned the TASC report once. TASC has gone through the Minister's strategy and highlighted all the difficulties with it, based on evidence. I am speaking to the amendment and what the Minister is trying to do which is making the situation 40 times worse.

The land aggregation scheme is part of the solution or the problem, depending on one's view. What is the status of it? Where is all the land that Galway City Council zoned as residential, half of which it gave back to Dublin? It has not even been mentioned in the debate, and it happened in every city council. The Minister says he is not going to hand over public land. He is going to give it in a partnership, and he used the word "leveraging", at a low value so houses can be built to rent. More than 800,000 people are renting, and the local authority share of it is 10%. If the Minister does not think this is a problem and a major part of the crisis, something is seriously wrong.

The legislation should not be dealt with today. It should be put back. We should have a rent freeze for the vacuum that has been created and to send a message to landlords, or we should tie rent increases to the CPI, which I asked for yesterday when there was a difficulty with the mathematical equations. That would be a simple way to deal with this. Instead of having empty statements in January on housing, let us have meaningful input from all of us. We are here to sort out the housing crisis. This is a way to stop any wrong message going out from the House and letting landlords increase rents.

I will do my best to set some kind of a good example, however I will be tempted from time to time, as the Ceann Comhairle himself would be, to occasionally refer to previous contributions. I do not claim to be an expert on the issue, and I am trying to address the amendments in the grouping. I declare a lack of interest. I am not a landlord, in case anybody got the wrong impression, nor do I have any aspirations to be. Like the Ceann Comhairle and many people in the House, over many years I have studied the housing situation, its tos and fros, its peaks and valleys, and tried to work out some means of ensuring we did not have a feast or a famine, which is what we have lived with for many years.

Interestingly enough, Deputy Dessie Ellis, with whom I do not agree ideologically, has an understanding of the way these matters work, as does Deputy Connolly. However, they should not allow an ideological bias to get in the way. One can go into a lending institution any time one likes and tell the lender that one is ideologically inclined in a particular direction, as a result of which one demands attention. Unfortunately, it does not work that way in the cold, hard reality of life. Deputy McGuinness made a number of interesting observations and he obviously understands from local authority dealings the scene that has been presented to us. This is about rent and rent control, rent massaging or holding rents at an affordable level. It is difficult to do because once the market is interfered with at all, a problem is created somewhere else down the track.

There are two groups of people in need of attention in this country at present. One group consists of those, to whom reference has been made, who do not qualify for a loan from a lending institution, a loan from their local authority or a local authority house. These are not necessarily the lowest income earners in the country. They have reasonable enough incomes. However, they do not qualify for any of these measures and they still will not qualify for them if the Bill is passed. The reason they do not qualify is that we used to have a system to deal with this situation many years ago, which was abolished and replaced with a different system that did not work. Some of us spoke about it at the time. About 15, 16 or 17 years ago, there was a switch-over in what the local authorities did regarding rental accommodation being provided by the State or what are called approved housing bodies, which were a disaster. People laugh when I mention this, as the Ceann Comhairle knows, but the fact of the matter is that they were a disaster. The longer we pursue this notion, the more pronounced the problem will become in the years to come, so let us deal with two or three of the issues if we can.

There are no circumstances to my mind in which the ownership of property is a lesser aspiration than renting. I have heard various people, obviously with vested interests, promoting countless times over recent years the notion that it is much better, safer and cheaper to rent. It was so at the depths of the crash but it has not been since, nor will it ever be again. I will put it this way. How can one explain to people that they would be better off renting their houses and that we will control the rents for them when it is known that the person who invests in the residential property must borrow the money for a start and must make a profit on the borrowed money as well? Unless the landlord is a fool altogether, he or she will not let housing without making a profit. This increases the rent that must be paid on the property, and it will be this way forever.

I will give the House an anecdote. I was involved in a few schemes to build voluntary or affordable houses. We decided arbitrarily that the maximum repayment should be somewhere in the region of €800 per month. This was in the middle of the boom. Suggesting this to people at the time was very difficult, but we did, it was successful and it continues to be successful to this day, despite the fact we had to compete against the approved housing bodies which were able to acquire the land for €1 per site. We had to pay €20,000 for the same sites right beside them, which was the most peculiar situation there ever was. I offer this anecdote by way of explanation as to how we might try to influence the matter in a positive way for people.

In our local authority area, there are about 8,500 applicants for local authority houses. These are families, not individuals. More and more people are becoming homeless for a host of different reasons. Banks are putting pressure on the buy-to-rent sector, which is forcing people out onto the street or into an alternative, namely, rental accommodation, which another bank is in turn forcing out into the open, resulting in homelessness. There were always homeless people in this city, as we all know. In the peak of the boom, there were homeless people for a variety of reasons. Society should not be this way, but that is the way it is. We all in our various areas had to pick them up and try to dust them down, as it were, and bring them to some kind of safety. It did not always work, but we did our best. The point is that now these people's situations are in competition. They are competing with people who have been forced into the market by virtue of circumstances rather than through some fault of their own.

I believe that house property is way too expensive in this country at present. I will give the House an example. When Bill Clinton retired a few years ago - Deputies may ask how relevant this is; I will tell them - he bought a property in upstate New York for $5 million or thereabouts. To buy the same property here at that time would have cost $25 million. I rest my case. It is not possible to operate in such a market, so we must find a means to ensure a sector of the population that cannot compete in the marketplace is provided for alternatively. This is where Deputy McGuinness is correct. We need to build more local authority houses, we need to build them quickly and we need to introduce modular houses where this is not already happening. We need to do this as a matter of urgency because every day that passes - two or three years ago, it was every month - the situation becomes more severe for the people concerned.

I would love to have an opportunity to discuss many more aspects of this issue. The Minister has said we will have an opportunity for statements. Let us hope we do because Government backbenchers have very little opportunity to make statements in these debates at all. That is the way things have gone, and it is a problem, but I hope we do get an opportunity to speak on the fundamentals of this issue in the hope that we can do something about it.

I believe the Bill is an attempt to focus on the situation and deal with it. I am not certain it will resolve the problem. It will not provide a single extra house; it cannot. However, it will provide focus on the issue. I could not finish without saying that I know plenty of landlords who have been very diligent and conscientious towards their tenants, have not raised rents at all over a long number of years - or if they have, by very little - and treat their tenants as if they were their own family. Unfortunately, there are other landlords as well for whom it is a question of how often and how high the rent can be increased to such an extent that, in some cases, rents have gone in the past 18 months or thereabouts from €800 or €900 to €1,900 or €2,000, which is a fairly dramatic increase. People ask why this is happening. It is happening because no houses were built, either local authority or private, for a number of years. That is the problem. Where is the population coming from? It is a cycle. Every new generation comes on stream and is entitled to receive a fair evaluation of their case regarding housing. Unfortunately, we have seen over recent years that the local authorities or Governments do not seem to have been prepared for this cycle. It comes up on us. All of a sudden we wake up one morning and we have a housing crisis. However, it is not the first one.

In the 1980s, when there was no money and absolutely nothing in the country, when we were in the middle of a recession, a depression - at least everyone thought we were - our local authority in County Kildare was able to build between 300 and 400 houses per year and offer local authority loans of another 400 per year. That is almost 1,000 each year. In the intervening period, nothing has happened at all. The result is that these people are all backing up on the waiting list. As a result, we are in the situation we are in now.

I would like to compliment the local authority in one respect. As a result of the promptings of several public representatives of all parties, the local authority has purchased houses in recent years. We had hoped they would be allocated before now. We hope they will be allocated fairly soon. The local authority was fortunate enough to be able to acquire houses and properties when they were available. I hope that will continue because if it does not, we will not be able to solve this problem in the short term unless the modular houses come in in truckloads and people buy them.

As the next two speakers on the list that was agreed earlier today, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Michael Collins, are not present in the Chamber, I call Deputy Thomas Byrne.

It has been suggested during today's debate that Deputies should stick to the amendments because this is not Second Stage.

The truth is that it is now Second Stage, in effect, as a result of the way the legislation has come in.

It should not be.

It should be, in fact, because our job is to talk about the principle of this legislation while also getting into the detail of it.

We have a job to do on Report Stage.

It is clear from the way this legislation has developed that it has proved difficult for Deputies in this Chamber and for the Government to do the job to which I refer. It is absolutely essential for us to take as long as possible to ensure no mistakes, or no other mistakes, are made.

It is just as well that this measure has been the subject of such deep scrutiny. Some spokespersons have been criticised for not being in the Chamber, but I suggest that any spokesperson, or indeed the Minister, who is not in the Chamber, is probably doing further scrutiny of this legislation in his or her office with his or her assistants. That is the position here.

I absolutely uphold the right of all Deputies to speak on the generalities and specifics of this issue. The fact of the matter is that this week, we have seen a pretty cynical attempt to play out the internal politics of Fine Gael within the rental market. Not only are commentators saying this, but they are also being told this by Fine Gael Ministers and Deputies. The public can read that. I do not think the people of this country will fall for any of this. They remember the debates that took place in this House last year when the Minister, Deputy Kelly, made proposals in this regard. They will recall the huge resistance of the Fine Gael Party at that time to the concept of rent stabilisation, certainty or control. Fine Gael's position on this issue has changed in recent months, mainly as a result of its reduced mandate but also as a result of the pressure it has faced from all the Opposition groups in this House.

I acknowledge that these proposals are being made following a process to which Fianna Fáil made a submission. It has to be said that many of the items we sought, and indeed other parties sought, have been achieved. Unfortunately, we are not hearing about those important matters during this debate because of the focus on one or two issues.

It is very easy to criticise landlords. I am not holding a flag for landlords and certainly not for the REITs that have been allowed to come into the market. Rather than producing new properties, the REITs are taking over existing properties with the encouragement of Fine Gael. It is not easy for landlords who may have bought one or two houses in good faith to save responsibly for their pensions. The key aspect of what we are doing is to protect tenants. This does not mean all of us want to slam every single landlord out there. Only for them, many houses would not be available.

Although the proposals advanced last year by the then Minister, Deputy Kelly, were the subject of a great deal of criticism, I acknowledge that they have had some effect. Some of the loudest critics of those proposals are building them into their calculations now. Others have tried to ignore all of this. Deputy Kelly's measures have had a little bit of an effect and have given people some comfort. Some of what is being done now is very welcome on top of this.

It has been alleged that the reasons which have been provided for under the rules governing Part 4 tenancies to enable tenants to be put out of properties - the sale of the house, for example, or its rental to a family member - are quite restrictive. The reality is that in some cases, these provisions are being used as a means of getting new tenants who can be charged higher rents. I suggest that regardless of the rate, the incentive to change tenants will disappear a result of this type of legislation. That is one of the key reasons for introducing rent control and stabilisation, or "rent certainty" as we are calling this measure. It is important to emphasise during all the argy-bargy that is going on in the Dáil today - I understand from colleagues that it is going to go on until Monday, but I have not heard a formal announcement to that effect - that this measure should give comfort to people who are in situ in their properties. When this Bill has been passed, the Members of the Dáil will be able to say they have worked together to achieve something that will benefit tenants.

I remind the House that the rent certainty measures which are being introduced here now, despite huge resistance from large parts of the Fine Gael Party, are extremely common around the developed world. This is not new stuff. It is not radical. Ireland is not taking a lead role in this respect. It has to be said with regard to rent regulation that we are well behind the curve in comparison with other developed economies. I suppose the historical reason for that is the desire of Irish people to own their own homes. We should never forget that and we should always encourage it.

Deputy McGuinness and others have rightly pointed out that the local authorities are doing very little because they are not being encouraged to do much by the Government. I noticed today that Meath County Council has issued a tender in the vaguest possible terms looking for expressions of interest for private developments. The council has said that two thirds of the properties it needs are two-bed houses. I do not understand that.

That is where the demand is, according to the figures

How long will it take the Department to go through the motions and get approvals, finance and actual tenders for actual projects?

That is what we are changing.

Perhaps the Minister of State will address this matter at some point. A scheme of approximately 40 houses in Kells that was minor in the overall scheme of things but very important for the town was taken completely off the drawing board at the start of the year as a result of incompetence somewhere. I am not saying it is the fault of the Government or the council that the scheme has not yet been built, but there was incompetence somewhere.

We will sort it out.

It seems to me that the person who was responsible for the Kells scheme dropping off the list did not really understand the urgency of the housing crisis we are facing. I suggest that the need for a housing scheme in Kells and for other housing schemes throughout the country did not seem sufficiently urgent to him or her. Can the Minister tell us when exactly the local authority houses that are to be purchased in County Meath, according to the tender I have mentioned, will come on stream? How many houses are involved? No figure has been given. It is an extremely general tender. I wonder what the purpose of it is.

The current version of amendment No. 55, as set out on page 2 of the most recent document with which we have been furnished, provides for a rent increase to be permissible if a "substantial change in the nature of the accommodation provided under the tenancy occurs". Perhaps the Minister will come back and talk about that because it seems extremely vague. It is not in line with my understanding of what was agreed between the parties as being acceptable. Will the Minister outline what he proposes to do in this regard? It does not seem acceptable that such a provision could be included in the Bill. There are many ways of making a "substantial change". Who is to say that painting a property does not constitute a "substantial change"? The legislation does not clarify what is involved. The Minister might scoff-----

I am not scoffing.

-----or say "of course it does not"-----

I have shown the guidelines in this regard to the Deputy's party spokesperson on this issue. He has seen them and he is happy with them.

Could the Dáil see them? Could they be included in the legislation? Having spoken to Deputy Cowen on this point, I am not certain that what the Minister has said is actually the case. The legislation needs to set out what is meant by a "substantial change". Painting is substantial from-----

It is not standard practice for the guidelines to be included with the legislation.

We are legislating for rent control.

The Minister has given the guidelines to the Fianna Fáil spokesperson in this area.

We are legislating here for an exception to rent certainty. It is extremely important for the Dáil to know what it is voting on. Other speakers have made the point that we are not on Second Stage. We are not talking about the generalities here. We need to know the specifics.

The Deputy has been talking about sites in Kells.

We need to know what exactly constitutes a "substantial change". It is an important point. I appreciate that a higher level of rent would be expected in the case of an old cottage that was in an almost uninhabitable state being done up. I accept that rent certainty might not apply in such a case. Believe it or not, there are places like this within the rent pressure zones.

Let us suppose a place is redecorated. In the ordinary market, that could well imply a price rise in terms of rent. Is there an exception under the rent certainty measures in the rent pressure zones? The Dáil is entitled to specific answers in that regard.

Let us hope this works. As colleagues have said, if this does not work, we have no time. We do not have Private Members’ time at the moment to bring forward legislation. This can be changed. It could not be changed this week. The Minister put the Fianna Fáil party in a bind. He said that if we did not accept it, the market would skyrocket. He was more than happy to do that with his Fine Gael colleagues in order for him to claim a political victory. That is fine. That is the way things are at present. However, if this does not work, it can be changed in the new year. I have no doubt that we will be to the fore in that regard. Like her colleagues, Deputy Bailey is smiling and the newspapers are reporting the glee among those on the Fine Gael benches. However, there is no glee among rental households. What we are doing is better than the alternative put before the Dáil yesterday morning, which was to the effect that this was off the table. It may be the better outcome this week, but it may not be the ideal outcome when the Dáil returns in the middle of January. There will be an opportunity to change it then. I will certainly be advocating for that if it does not work out to our expectations.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is next. He has assured me that he will only take ten minutes. I take his word for it.

Some of my learned colleagues on my right were putting up two fingers to me. I am unsure whether they meant two minutes or something else.

The Deputy does not have to take ten minutes.

I do not know what they meant. I am unsure whether it was two minutes or whether they were giving me some other signal.

That would not be becoming.

No, it would not be becoming. I do not think it was. I am of the view that it was simply the time or the Christmas period about which they were thinking.

I know the Minister has put a great deal of effort into this, as have Deputy Bailey and the officials. I thank all the officials and the staff of the House for being so patient with us for the late nights. I got a message from the Ceann Comhairle to the effect that we are finishing at 6 p.m. for health and safety reasons, and rightly so. If my business was operating those hours, there would be trouble. If a lorry driver was pulled over, he would be arrested because of the tachograph.

It is ridiculous to be rushing this legislation. The Minister should withdraw it. This is too rushed and panicked and there are too many possible flaws in it. I emphasise that they are possible flaws. We simply do not know. As Deputy Thomas Byrne said, there are too many uncertainties and imponderables. It is rushed and any rushed legislation is bad legislation. The Minister should withdraw it. There should be two separate Bills, with one for rent certainty alone. It should be separate from planning issues. Planning is a different matter. To use the words of Deputy McGuinness, it is the best worst example of new politics. That is a new phrase and it is apt. We have seen it in recent days. We have seen how some of my learned friends are not happy with the way the Minister has treated them.

In the case of water policy, I said that the pipe was ruptured and there was a split coming from the pipe in the relationship involving confidence and supply. I think bigger ruptures have appeared in the pipe. The pipe is swelling and expanding and is about to explode. It has not burst yet but we are not far off it. We have seen it in recent days. I think the days of this Government are numbered.

We will all be criticised, and why not? We are all in here in a bubble talking about things. Homelessness is increasing. We have been talking about it for nine years. The previous Government failed completely. The Minister responsible at the time, Deputy Kelly, tried to do something, but the Fine Gael people did not allow him. He lost the battle. He went to the bar on the night in question and I gave him a lollipop because he got nothing that day. I felt sorry for him. He was there with his Fine Gael colleagues and I handed the barman a lollipop to give to him. I did not want to give it to him myself in case he gave it back to me in no uncertain terms.

That is the way the games have gone on. Political games are being played while people suffer. Meanwhile, we are oblivious to what is going on with the banks. We can deal with all the issues we are trying to deal with in the Bill, but the Minister is looking in the wrong place. We should be looking at what is going on in the banks and what is happening with evictions in the courts. Instead, we passed the Courts Bill in recent days to allow the courts to evict more people. We can bring in whatever legislation we like. We can want, dream, fight, cajole and talk about who got this and who got that. They are like children waiting for sweets from Santa Claus in the sense of arguing who got the best part out of it. There is nothing good in it for anyone. The Minister is looking in the wrong place. Let us consider what the banks are doing.

I came to the House as a Fianna Fáil Member on that fatal night and voted for the bank guarantee. What thanks did I get? What thanks did the people get? We were lied to up to the hilt and we are still being lied to. The banks and the courts are evicting people. The Circuit Court was stopped in its tracks. The Government passed legislation last week to let the courts do it again.

I heard Deputy O’Callaghan referring to free legal aid and support for families who have been evicted. What good is free legal aid? It only makes the fat cats fatter, while other people face losing their homes.

There is no mention of the voluntary sector in the Bill. That sector has played and can continue to play a major role. It must do so because the local authorities and the system have failed.

This Bill is not an effort to deal with everything.

That is what I am saying. It is like a sticking plaster. It is like when I got a puncture on the front wheel of my bicycle when I was going for a date one time. Perhaps the Minister has never cycled, but I have. I often carried someone home on the handlebars too, with no light on the bike. In any event, when I got the puncture to which I refer, there were six pin holes in the tube but I could only mend one. I got a flat wheel before I had gone far up the road.

The Bill is rubbish as far as I am concerned. We are looking in the wrong place. We must look at what is causing the crisis and at the local authorities. For decades, houses were built. They were built all through the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. For some reason, that activity was stopped dead in its tracks and a house has not been built since.

Deputy Thomas Byrne asked how long it would take for the tender that went out in Meath this morning to be done. That is only for the first phase of expressions of interest. It is for people to come and tell them what they can do. Then, those involved might look at the tender and meet the people. We do not have plenty of people available.

Builders can build if they get the money from the banks. I am referring to good builders, not the shady characters or tinted groups. I am referring to the real builders who want to build houses. They want to build for families and a small profit. They should not be demonised like the rest of them. There are many good landlords as well and they cannot be demonised either, like the many bad ones. We are not listening to Fr. Peter McVerry or any of my good and learned colleagues, such as Alice Leahy from Tipperary. We are not listening to any of the people who know the position. We are listening to officialdom, which has gone completely bonkers. We are passing legislation without any idea of the impact it will have. We are giving notice to the greedy landlords that this is going to happen. It was supposed to happen this week. It might not happen until next week. If they want, they can notify all their tenants and say they will increase the rent beforehand. The Minister said earlier that this does not apply retrospectively and that it cannot. We may as well put a message in the newspapers to landlords to the effect that they should put up the rents before this happens. It is a mockery. It is shameful as far as I am concerned. It is wasteful and useless. I mean that and I say it sincerely.

I listened to the female Deputy from Galway who is part of Independents4Change – her name eludes me. She was telling the truth. The truth is bitter but it must be listened to. I have seen it with legislation passed in the House without impact assessments being carried out.

Local authorities should be asked. The county managers have a fine association. They meet once a year. My manager is chairman of the group at present. The local authorities are doing nothing about the housing situation. There are directors of services for everything. There are six or seven in each county. When there was only a county manager, county engineer and area engineer, we ran the counties properly. We also had a housing engineer to build the houses.

How many stages must the local authority go through now to build five houses in my village if it wishes to build them? As it happens, it does not want to build. How many stages until it gets to the Department? I believe it is seven.

It was seven unless the Government has changed it. It applies to seven different parts of various Departments.

It is less than four with the option of one, if they wish it.

What is the blockage? Where is the delay?

Deputy Mattie McGrath, as a long-time Member, knows that he must discuss the terms of the amendment.

I am. Ten years ago I was involved with the Irish Council for Social Housing. I built houses myself as part of a voluntary association. I should declare that, I suppose. I should have declared that I am not a landlord as well. I have one house, one wife and eight children. I am not a landlord and I never have been. I might be if I inherit a house. Many people inherit houses. I am simply making the point that I have a house and that is all we live in. I have no interest in buying tens of houses. In the case of those who do, it is simply greed. There is something wrong with people who want that many houses. I do not mind if someone inherits a house. They are decent people. They will try to look after it and rent it. They should be supported as well.

Local authorities must be called in and held accountable. They are doing nothing. I could use a derogatory term. It is not the fault of the housing officials at the lower end of the chain. However, the county managers must be held accountable. They have a lovely association. They are untouchable, elected by no one and accountable to no one. What did the former Minister, Mr. Hogan, do? He appointed four or five of those officials who had retired with pensions and so on to the board of Irish Water. We have seen the subsequent scandal. Mr. Hogan was the Minister with responsibility for the environment for a long time. We must call in those to whom I refer. They have to start building houses. There should be one design to build one-bed, two-bed, three-bed and four-bed houses. There should be one design to fit all, except for the site. We can look at sites, the various levels, the land and so on. It need not be a racket for the hiring of consultants to design the five houses the local authority plans to build in my village. Consultants have to be hired in nowadays. What happened to the in-house consultants and engineers?

We never heard the word "consultant" in the 1940s and 1950s when houses were being built but there are consultants for everything now. That is where the money is going. We have heard all of the announcements from the Minister and previous Ministers about funding, but half to two thirds of it is going to paper pushing, consultants, carbon expenses, the City and County Management Association or whatever else and there are no houses being built. The empathy and humanity are gone from the system. The system has gobbled itself up and become too self-embracing and we are not getting anywhere. The banks and vulture funds must be dealt with but we refuse to look at them. As long as we refuse to look at them, the housing lists will grow and grow.

I see Dr. Donal McManus, who is the head of the ICSH, is here and note that the voluntary sector has a role to play. We cut out the red tape seven or eight years ago and made one unit to deal with the voluntary sector. I do not know what county it is in but it streamlined things and was working great. We got a lot of delivery and it was on time. Schemes were built within 15 or 18 months whereas it was taking local authorities four and five years to build them. That unit has now been closed because the mandarins in the Department were not happy with it. It was too efficient, which embarrassed them, so they shut it down and we are back now to all the processes of different Departments. It has gone from one area in County Carlow to Castlebar and back and forward across the country. The most important man seems to be the postman and the delivery man.

There is no security of tenure in the Bill at all and we are fast-tracking evictions. Researchers have said we had the highest number of evictions ever this year and they want to weigh it up. Those families experience sickness, trauma and terror as they wait for eviction, and offering them legal fees to pay the fat cats is not of much use to them if they have to leave their houses. The legal fees do not matter much, do they? We must examine also the landbanks in local authorities to which Deputy McGuinness referred. What the hell are they doing with them? There are approximately 300 acres of land in Clonmel making the town one of the biggest farmers. I do not know if the local authority is getting the single farm payment, but if not, it should be. It bought the land, I suppose in good faith, but will not build on it. There are landbanks in many other villages consisting of zoned lands.

To make matters worse, a business man in Clonmel, who had built a lovely new business in the town ten years ago but which failed, came to me recently about the lovely modern building in which his business had been housed. He had decided to convert it into four apartments. This is an issue relating to the local authority again and it is one where the Minister will have to take the gloves off and talk to the authority. I do not think the Minister ever served on a local authority himself, but I could be wrong.

I do not disagree with any of this but we have a huge amount of work to get done today.

Do something about it.

Do something about it. We are talking about it.

We are doing a great deal about it.

Can I just refer to local authorities and the landbanks?

The Deputy agreed with what we are doing.

As to that building in Clonmel, I got a preplanning meeting for the businessman seeking a change of use from business to residential by providing five apartment blocks. These would be nice blocks in the centre of Clonmel. By the time planning fees and development and change of use charges were added up, his bank and his accountant laughed at him. They told him to forget about it. It was 57% of the cost and no bank would give him the money. He was a young man with energy, a few bob and a bit of initiative trying a business. He has another business as well. As these units were failing, he was going to convert them to town centre residential accommodation which would keep the town alive too. He could not do it because of the charges. I tried in my county development plan to change the rules in order that shops and places closed for ten years could be changed back to accommodation without any fuss or charges to try to bring life back to town centres while solving the housing crisis as well. However, it did not get into the county development plan as it might be too simple. As such, Clonmel now only has two families living over their businesses on the main street.

While his colleagues will not want me to interrupt Deputy McGrath, I note that he asked me to remind him when he had spoken for ten minutes. He has done almost 15 now.

It does not seem like that but there are others who want to come in.

I made an exception for the Deputy.

I acknowledge and appreciate that. I gave the Leas-Cheann Comhairle a dig-out last week when his own crowd would not let him speak to support the music men. I know he likes the bit of tradition.

We will stay with this Bill.

I am all for Irish people having a home and being able to pay their rent. This is nothing only a racket, however, and it has been hijacked. I am not saying the Minister is inept, but the whole system has become inept in terms of dealing with it. We are talking ourselves silly. I watched the debate last night on the error that had been discovered. The hours people are putting in are too long and the legislation is rushed.

Why can we not deal with this? We should start at the local level. I believe in "local". I represent "local". Start with the local authorities and ask what is wrong with them and why they cannot build houses anymore. They are simple questions. They are not doing it. They say that while the Minister has announced that money is available, they cannot draw it down. It is not rocket science. If we got rid of all the consultants and the layers of bureaucracy and red tape, we would have done something. That is all I will say, mo focail scór. Start local. Come down and get dirty with the people. Listen to them and talk to the people who are homeless. Support and enable the voluntary groups to build. The builders cannot build because they cannot get the money from the banks and planning can take forever, although the Minister is trying to make some changes. He should start locally, listen to the people and stand with them. Like the parish priest, if one stands in people's kitchens, one will have a full church. The Minister should stand with and listen to the people and get on to the local authorities first thing on Monday morning. He should call them to Dublin and tell them what I and everyone else said in the Dáil. It is what anyone with a nose on his or her face can see. They are failing the people.

It is common sense.

I call Deputy Michael Collins, who I am also obliging. He can take up the two minutes.

I appreciate the accommodation and I will keep it to two minutes, strictly. In the past week in reply to Leaders' Questions, our Taoiseach was honest when he said this problem had been around for a very long time. If that is so, why has the crisis got worse and why have some landlords been left to go out of control? I emphasise that it is some landlords. In some cases, they have terrified their tenants. One landlord in west Cork is demanding a 60% increase in rent from an excellent tenant and waving a new contract knowing he can throw the tenant out with nowhere to turn. These landlords must be named, shamed and severely penalised as they give other honest landlords a bad name.

West Cork is a disaster area and part of a national emergency as there are no social houses being built while huge demand exists in Inishannon, Bandon, Clonakilty, Bantry, Dunmanway, Skibbereen, Kinsale, Castletownbere, Schull and many more places. My clinics are besieged by people who are being put out of their homes or who are pleading for a council house. In some cases, they are sleeping in cars while in others families are sleeping on friends' sofas. The housing assistance payment, HAP, has not worked. Did the Minister ever ring an auctioneer and ask how many houses are available to rent and how many landlords will take HAP? I urge him to do so.

There are 12,500.

I assure the Minister that he will receive a very clear answer because I have done it. I have rung each and every auctioneer in west Cork and I know the answer I am getting on the ground. I can only declare the facts I am getting.

A 4% cap is way too high for many. It could mean an increase of €400 for struggling tenants. The legislation is rushed and should be withdrawn. We need more time to discuss it. There is no discussion of a resettlement programme whereas there was such a programme in 2012 which housed 700 families. However, there is no room in this Government for funding because a programme might boost the population in rural communities, tackle the housing issue and solve the crisis. I invite the Minister to come to west Cork where I will take him around to all the disused houses which are falling out onto our streets. Why are these property owners not challenged? This would not be allowed in other European countries. In many rural towns and villages, disused properties are the scourge of the community. If strict new guidelines were applied, it would create many new homes for families. Meanwhile, farm families and many others seeking planning permission to move into rural communities have every guideline put in their way to prevent them from getting planning permission. They are forced onto the social housing lists and, in the long run, they are an addition to the national crisis.

The legislation is being rushed through when, on the contrary, it should be withdrawn. We need further discussion and further time to tease through many of these issues.

I will speak to amendment No. 55 and not make a Second Stage speech. I will be very brief. I spoke to a number of people last night in my constituency, which is to be designated as a rent pressure zone, and there was a great deal of fear among many of those who are renting privately. They are really struggling and the only certainty they see, which may be down to the narrative in this debate, is the probability that they will see rent increases of 4% for the next three years. It may not seem like much to say "4%", which is a total of 12% over the next three years, but then one looks at the actual figures for average rent prices in the rent pressure zones in Cork city. We have a couple of different sets of figures from daft.ie and the Residential Tenancies Board. If one looks at those figures, it is clear that there will be a massive increase in rents over the next three years.

The Minister knows as well as I do, because he lives in Cork, that the number of people losing the roofs over their heads because they cannot afford them is increasing all the time. What these people wanted and needed was a rent freeze. Even to pay the 4% increase in the first year somebody will have to come up with in excess of €500 additional rent. In year two, because the figure will be compounded, the person will have to come up with more than €800 extra. In year three it will be an extra €940 because we decided to go for what the Minister describes as rent certainty as opposed to rent affordability, which the debate should be about. By that I mean affordability for the tenants and for the landlords who are in it to make a profit. While we may disagree on the level of the profit they should make, that is the reality of the market.

In Cork city an increasing number of landlords do not rent their properties to one tenant but rent out rooms to several tenants. A property might have four separate tenancies. The average price for renting a single bed room in Cork is €384 a month. A double bed room costs €461 per month. A landlord with a four bedroom house might have four separate tenancies and would make a profit in excess of €200 a month. Will the Minister clarify whether his new formula is based on the number of tenancies or the property?

What discussions has the Minister had with the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, about how this policy-----

They do not talk to one another.

-----is going to work in partnership with those on rent allowance, housing assistance payment, HAP, but in particular rent supplement and how that is going to play out over years one, two and three? We are putting in place a policy that gives landlords free rein to increase prices up to in excess of €940 over the next three years, based on the average in my constituency. Those people on rent supplement are on it because they cannot afford private rented accommodation without State intervention, and because of the long waiting lists for social housing, their prospect of being housed in the immediate future is very slim. They are dependent on that State intervention. If we bring in a system where there will be rent increases, what discussions have there been with the Minister for Social Protection to allow those State interventions to increase in line with the proposed rent increases? Is that Minister factoring this into his 2017 Estimates? The Estimates for next year have been agreed but now there is a change in policy which is going to see an increase in the demand on the State intervention in particular for rent supplement. It is crucial that the people who are on these payments get a commitment from the Government that they will not suffer as a result of any increases in their rent arising from the new policy the Minister is implementing and because there has been a lack of dialogue between the two Ministers. They need a commitment that any increase in rent will be matched by an increase in the State intervention in particular for those on rent supplement. I ask the Minister to give that commitment today.

It is regrettable that in the dying days of this year and Dáil session such important legislation will be rushed through. Did the Government learn nothing from the mistakes of the previous Government which introduced the Water Services Bill 2013 in Christmas week several years ago and rushed it through? The Government had to deal with the aftermath of that for many years. I have grave concerns about the 4% rent increase. My party colleague, the spokesperson on housing, has articulated the party's concerns.

The rise in rents in recent years has been beyond belief. Many find it hard to get places to rent or cannot afford to pay their rent because of the vast increases, yet we are giving landlords permission to raise the rents further over the next few years. I am not averse to landlords. I think they have a very positive and meaningful role to play in the rental market and in helping to address the housing crisis, but to incentivise and encourage them to stay in the market, we cannot put that pressure on tenants. We need to incentivise landlords to come into and stay in the market because they are leaving continually. They are paying PAYE, USC and PRSI. A landlord told me last night that 62% of his rental income is paid in taxes. Instead of putting the pressure on the tenants, this plan lacks ambition and the Minister should have reviewed the tax allowances available to landlords.

There are accidental landlords. I met a lady last night who was a teacher, but because her job changed, she had to let her house in Mullingar and she now lives in Dublin, paying huge rent. The rental income does not cover her mortgage. She pays tax on it. When she lived in that house renting out two rooms, she was able to avail of €15,000 tax free a year. There is no help or support for somebody in a situation like hers. It is regrettable that the Minister felt the need to push this 4% because it could have been done in a different way that would have incentivised landlords to continue in the rental market but not at the expense of tenants who simply cannot afford to pay more. Today in the press people compliment the Minister for facing people down but I think he will be remembered as the Minister who helped to make accommodation less affordable for working people who are trying to keep a roof over their heads.

I have grave reservations about the capacity of the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. Anyone I know who has had dealings with it has only negative things to say about it. I note the Minister has committed to increasing the resources of the RTB but he needs a tight timeframe to reassess it and ensure it is fit for purpose and does its job.

Anyone living in, working in or representing a commuter town or commuter belt, including, I am sure, his party colleagues and Independent colleagues who are supporting the Government, will tell the Minister that the rents in those areas have increased significantly in the past number of years as well. I do not know why at the outset the Minister is only including the two cities as being areas identified as pressure zones. Without question, the biggest pressure lies there, but it is not exclusive to those cities. The other areas should be included. I realise that the Minister has acceded to my colleague's request to examine the possibility of extending this during the first quarter of 2017 and I ask that it is done as quickly as possible.

That makes up all of the first interventions. Has Deputy Pearse Doherty spoken?

No. I spoke on a point of information yesterday.

That is okay. I call Deputy Pearse Doherty.

I will be brief because we dealt with quite a part of this on Committee Stage and I appreciate the clarifications the Minister has given on the amendments. Will the Minister address a query I have about amendment No. 55? Another Deputy raised a matter relating to the new subsection (6). This subsection deals with notices served, prior to the enactment of this legislation, under section 22(2). The notices are 90-day rent review notices. If this has already been notified to the tenant, subsections (3) and (4), which contain the formula providing for a maximum 4% increase, do not have effect and the increase can be greater than the 4% figure in the formula.

My query relates to notices that have been issued after the relevant date. The relevant date is the date that the legislation is enacted and comes into effect. For example, if a tenant is informed by his landlord in late January that a rent review is taking place under section 22(2), which requires 90 days' notice, and the 90 days' notice period begins at the end of January and the Residential Tenancies Board then identifies the area as a rent pressure zone, do subsections (3) and (4) apply? This amendment states that subsections (3) and (4) do not apply where a notice under section 22(2) has been served immediately before the relevant date. This leads me to believe that, where a notice is served after the enactment of the legislation but prior to an area being designated a rent pressure zone, the notice can be interrupted, for want of a better word, and the 4% cap would apply despite the fact that the train had left the station in terms of the rent review. If that is the case, a question arises. If the Residential Tenancies Board by designating an area a rent pressure zone, as provided for in the legislation, can interrupt the rent review process and apply a cap, why can we not do it for notices that will be issued prior to the signing of this legislation by the President or that have been issued in the past few weeks but have not yet taken effect?

The Minister will have an opportunity to respond, but we will now move to the two minute slots if Members are interested in speaking. If not, I will ask the Minister to conclude. I call Deputy Róisín Shortall.

On a point of order-----

Does the Minister not respond first?

The Minister has taken his two-minute slot. He has already done that.

If the Members wish, I will allow the Minister two minutes and he can then respond more comprehensively.

Will we have two minutes?

There were many questions and I will answer as many of them as I can. First, there has been a lot of general commentary on the need to increase the supply of social housing, to work with local authorities in doing it, to increase funding for it, to streamline planning decisions, to ensure that the Part 8 process works in a streamlined way and to ensure that we are purchasing vacant properties from banks, occupying them and, where possible, acquiring them. All of that is happening. My understanding is that the local authorities spent more than €200 million this year buying more than 1,000 properties. The Housing Agency has purchased in and around 200 vacant properties so far from banks. The legislation, ironically, is doing some of the things that some people were asking for earlier in terms of streamlining the planning process, trying to get larger scale development moving faster and trying to ensure that we get more certainty around decision making and so on.

I understand the frustration. I understand that many people recognise, as do I, that we have a housing crisis which is different in various parts of the country, but we are doing multiple things through a broader housing strategy and a homelessness strategy. Deputies will be glad to hear that we won a court case today to ensure that the Francis St. new emergency shelter can now open. We will now have three new emergency hostels open in Dublin. We started work on those premises on 1 November. The turnaround time has reflected the sense of urgency that has been needed.

The fair deal scheme, which I think was mentioned yesterday by Deputy Róisín Shortall, forms part of the rental strategy. My Department and the Department of Health are reviewing it.

Yesterday, Deputy Smith queried why rent controls. The simple answer is that I think it is appropriate to do it. We are introducing rent controls. I believe that, in time, supply will solve many of the problems that we now have. Those problems are pent up in a private rental market that is not big enough to meet demand. In time that will change because we will have a dramatic increase in social housing provision through acquisition, bringing voids back into the system, getting vacant properties back into use and building new properties. In the meantime, we need to try to protect tenants from totally unsustainable rent increases.

Deputy O'Brien raised a question about rooms that are rented. The Residential Tenancies Acts cover tenancies in complete rental units. Those who let rooms are not landlords under the Act and are not registered with the Residential Tenancies Board and are, therefore, not covered by this measure as defined in the legislation.

I do not wish to interrupt the Minister but, in accordance with the rules, his two minutes have expired. He will have sufficient time when summing up. Deputy Róisín Shortall will get the first two-minute slot.

It is clear that the legislation is complex and, given the mistake a number of us identified early yesterday, should not be rushed. It is hard to be confident that we know the full implications of what is being proposed. While I was not included in the earlier briefing, a delegate from my office was at a briefing, for which I express my appreciation.

I seek an assurance from the Minister on the definitions provided for 32(4)(a) and (b) in terms of "(a) 24, where section 24C(1)(a) applies, or". It is important that we get an assurance from the Minister that legal advice has been provided because it is not clear from a straightforward reading of the amendment that it could not result in higher rent increases in situations where people had not had a rent review for three, four or five years.

The other point I wish to make relates to a situation where a tenancy changes mid-year. Clearly, if a new tenancy starts in January and there is a rent increase of 4% at that time, at the end of June if the tenancy changes and a new tenant comes into the dwelling, from my reading of 32(4)(b), it means that rent can be increased by a further 2%, where it has already been increased by 4% for the first six months, and a further 2% is allowed from mid-year on or whenever the tenancy changes. That means, in effect, where a tenancy changes the rent increase allowed is 6%. I am concerned that the measure could act as an incentive for landlords to change their tenants. I also endorse the concerns that have been raised by Deputy Pearse Doherty.

I do not accept that.

I wish to notify the House that last night in Dublin a group of 100 citizens occupied a building in Tara Street in which NAMA has an interest, as part of the Home Sweet Home campaign to highlight the plight of homelessness in the city and the need for even more action from the Government. I commend them on what they have done. They are citizens who are appalled by the level of homelessness in the city. I urge the Minster to take some time out of his busy schedule to meet with them, both the campaigners and the homeless people who are there, to discuss it with them.

I asked a number of questions but they were not answered. I appreciate that we have had a long debate but at some stage the Minister needs to put his responses on the record. He has still not explained the confusion between 4% as a yield and 4% as a rent increase over each of the three years affected. That is one of the fundamental flaws of this legislation and of the Minister's justification for it. Despite the fact that I and other Members have repeatedly asked him to clarify the point, he has yet to do so.

I also asked the Minister on a number of occasions both in this House and in the media to provide the evidence on which he is basing his claim that CPI-linked rent certainty would lead to either a reduction of existing stock or act as a disincentive to landlords entering the market. To go back to the point I made earlier, if the current yields are 6% to 7% for new investment in the private rental sector, I do not see what the evidence would be.

Could the Minister clarify his response to Deputy Jonathan O'Brien's question? My understanding is that if a landlord has a property and rents out all of the rooms, even if they are individual tenancies, they are covered under previous and current legislation. It is only where I rent out a room in my own house that the legislation does not apply. That is a really important point because those landlords who often have properties with multiple rooms, where they let them all out, in many cases to very low income families or students, if they are not covered by the legislation that is a really significant flaw. I urge the Minister to clarify the position.

I have just come from Apollo House where the Home Sweet Home campaign is currently occupying a building which, ironically, was formerly a social protection building. It is probably seven or eight storeys high. There are dozens of activists inside who are making accommodation available to homeless people on the street. Groups such as Simon are in there offering voluntary support services to the homeless coming in. They are asking for public support for this brilliant action. This is a NAMA building, which is now, incredibly, in the hands of receivers, BNP Paribas. It is a public building that could be used to help resolve the homelessness crisis for children and families on the streets and it has taken the direct action of ordinary activists to take hold of the building and do what the Minister should be doing. I suggest that the Minister would go down there, talk to the people, who are serious people, who are taking the sort of serious, radical action that frankly is not being taken here.

It is a crying shame that the Government has refused to change the mandate of NAMA, which has been unloading vast amounts of property to the benefit of vultures and speculators which could help resolve the housing crisis instead of a fairly pathetic attempt to close the door after the horse has bolted in terms of unaffordable rents that are contributing directly to the housing and homelessness emergency. In all seriousness, I ask the Minister to take his inspiration from the Home Sweet Home campaign - the activists, trade unionists, artists and homeless people who are in Apollo House. This is the action we need instead of a set of policies that essentially is about genuflecting before the greed for profit of property developers and landlords who want to profit from the unacceptable, obscene misery of families, homeless people and the thousands of people affected by this disastrous homelessness emergency. It is not a crisis, it is an emergency and this is not the emergency action we need.

I will not reiterate the debate in full that we had yesterday and I will observe the two-minute rule. Specifically, I raised the issue yesterday that the 4% increase was something we were not comfortable living with, not because of an ideological perspective but because it was something coming on top of a very high market. The market has been out of control. The issue is one of affordability. If someone is paying a rent of €1,500 and there is a 4% increase, that is €60 a month and €720 a year. For a worker to afford that increase, he or she must be on a salary where he or she is paying the high rate of tax and he or she would need an income of €1,500 per month to pay €60 a month extra. That is the reality and so I was concerned.

That said, I acknowledge that 4% is a lot better than where we are today, where the increases in the Dublin area in particular, are double-digit increases. I also compliment the Minister on the amendment on foot of the difficulties we had last night in terms of the unforeseen consequence where the initial increase could have been 8%. The Minister and his officials dealt with it effectively and now the first increase can only be 4%. That 4%, effectively, is based on the conclusion of a two-year lease, which is 2% per annum. It amused me as I sat here looking at the figures and I speculated as to why the 2% per annum could not continue into the pressure zone, considering it is the amount one would provide for on entry to the pressure zone. For the two years before entry, it is a maximum of 4% for two years - 2% per annum - and the Minister is agreeable to that. However, after the first increase the annual increase is 4% per annum rather than the 2% per annum that preceded it. I am disappointed that could not be accommodated.

Some of the questions were not answered but I am sure they will be. Is the Minister aware that the Irish Property Owners' Association, IPOA, has issued a statement which was on Kildare FM that it is now considering withdrawal from State-sponsored rental schemes and implementing payment for key hand-over and charges for registration, car parking, letting costs and documentation costs? Could the Minister confirm to the House that he will report that as a matter of urgency to the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission because if it happened in the agricultural sector there would be dawn raids. That would be appropriate in this case. Could the Minister indicate whether the legislation already covers that, and if it does not, what are his proposals in relation to it? These are loopholes that apparently have already been identified and we must put a stop to them and close them down as soon as possible.

The most amazing thing in all of this is that there is almost surprise among some people that there is a housing crisis. This has been unfolding for many years and there has been no effort or intervention by the State in terms of increasing its capacity to build homes or to fund construction. There is a myriad of blockages across the system from planning to funding of developments. Local authorities are now without any capacity to build houses as all of that has been stripped out.

We have concerns about the 4%. We were criticised by our left wing colleagues who said we were play acting but it was about trying to ensure that rents would not escalate any further. We already have a situation where rents are at a very high bar and they are unaffordable for many. Any further increase in rent would put huge pressure on those people who are already under pressure. The purpose of our efforts was to try to ensure that the Government would examine the 4%. The Minister must respond rapidly to the concern that has been expressed about areas other than Dublin and Cork. One cannot have a situation whereby families outside the designated zones are potentially left vulnerable to rent increases.

We would welcome some movement on this.

While we welcome the fact that there is an intervention, the bottom line is that nothing has been done for the past five or six years to help unwind the blockages everywhere and ensure supply.

On Deputy Kelleher's last point, he actually had three opportunities to ensure there were no rent increases, but he voted against all three Bills.

The first would have made the situation far worse.

The Minister might be able to clarify the point I raised. My colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, asked-----

We built houses as well.

Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, please.

-----about it as well. It relates to landlords who are renting out whole properties as different tenancies for individual rooms. Will they be covered by this legislation?

The Minister might clarify another matter, as he was short on time and did not get an opportunity. What discussions have occurred with the Department of Social Protection and its Minister, Deputy Varadkar, on the payment of rent supplement within the pressure zones? Given that we will see increases of up to 12% over the next three years, has this been factored in? Has the Minister, Deputy Coveney, received a commitment that rent supplement levels will increase in line with the rental increases that we will see?

This debate has thrown up problems within the three emerging categories of people. For those in the Cork and Dublin areas, a 4% increase is proposed. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, who is in the Cork area, has described people's concern that their rents will increase by 4% per year. The people in Limerick city, Galway, Waterford and the area around Dublin are in the worst possible world. Their areas have been named as ones that might be subject to rent control, but we do not know when or if. Landlords who have reached the end of the two-year cycle introduced by the former Minister, Deputy Kelly, can decide to increase rents in light of the possibility that they will be restricted from doing so in future.

In responding on why we needed to pass this legislation, the Minister stated that the time between the policy intervention and its implementation needed to be as short as possible. People in areas like Limerick city, which is where I am from, do not know how long that will be. We do not even know whether this policy will apply. In many ways, such areas are in the worst possible situation, in that they may be subject to rent increases.

The third category relates to people who will be just outside those areas. There will be no restrictions and they are likely to face significant increases if they are close to areas where rent restrictions apply.

In light of everything, some tenants are insecure as we approach the Christmas season and do not know what will happen. Many fear that if we do not link rent increases with the consumer price index, CPI, they will be subjected to rent increases to which they would not have been had we not made this proposal on pressure zones. Many tenants will be in a worse position than they were before this debate started.

We favour applying the CPI to the whole country. According to the RTB, landlords frequently do not update figures. As such, its figures may not be reliable. The quarterly Daft.ie report contains good statistics and is based on small areas. For example, there are 17 areas in Kildare.

I agree with Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, in that this is the worst of all worlds. The idea behind enacting the legislation in this way was to avoid creating a vacuum in Dublin or Cork, but areas that have been under extreme pressure for years are in the worst of all worlds. The likes of the commuter belt area must be considered differently. Kildare, Meath and Wicklow combined have a larger population than Cork county and city or Dublin city, but they are being tacked on like a spare appendage because they do not contain cities. They have been under extreme pressure and we need to know the timeframes for them and other areas. By applying the legislation to specific areas instead of the whole country and not using the CPI, a domino effect will create a problem.

I am seeking clarity on whether the Minister's Department has been in contact with the Department of Social Protection regarding increases in rent assistance and housing assistance payments. There is evidence that people have been topping up. Often, there is a large difference between people's rents and what they are getting in HAP. It is being made up under the counter, so we are not getting a true picture.

I am trying to get my head around the detail of amendment No. 55 on the new section 19 that the Minister intends to insert in the Bill. There is a drafting issue with the amendment. It is a technical one and has no great impact other than not being clear in plain English.

I wish to query what is intended by subsection (6), which reads:

Where immediately before the relevant date a notice under section 22(2)--

(a) has been served on the tenant, or

(b) the rent review concerned has commenced,

then subsections (3) and (4) shall not apply to the new rent, referred to in section 22(2), stated in that notice in accordance with that section.

A question was asked this morning. That is why I checked the facts myself. I am not crystal clear on what is the Minister's intention, but it is my understanding that he intends that the new 4% rent increase cap will not apply to a new rent when certain procedures for increasing the rent are already commenced. Under paragraph (a) of the subsection, where immediately before the date this section becomes law, a notice under section 22(2) of the 2004 Act, as amended, has been served on the tenant, the 4% cap does not apply to that rent. Section 22 of the 2004 Act deals with the right of the tenant, as the Minister will know, to be notified of a new rent that has been set pursuant to the rent review. Subsection (2) requires the landlord to serve on the tenant at least 90 days before the date on which the new rent is to have effect a prescribed notice setting out the detailed particulars.

It is easy enough to know that subsection (6)(a) of the amendment will mean the rent cap will not apply in cases where, under section 22(2), notice of a new rent has been already served. Am I right in that? However, what does subsection (6)(b) of the amendment mean? The new cap will not apply in cases where, immediately before the date on which the Bill becomes law, "the rent review concerned has commenced". The term "rent review" is not used anywhere else in the amendment or the Bill. It is used in the 2015 Act, but only in reference to housing body tenancies, and it is not defined. This subsection assumes that a rent review is a fixed process without a defined starting date. If so, how does-----

The Deputy's time is up.

This is my first interjection.

That is fine. How does a landlord commence a rent review and when is that process legally deemed to have started? If this subsection envisages that a landlord can commence a rent review on a different date from that on which he or she sends notice to the tenant, it presumably must be an earlier date. Is it the date on which the landlord begins the compilation of information needed to provide the notice to be served on the tenant? That notice requires the landlord to state his or her opinion that the new rent is not greater than the market rent, having regard to letting values of similar dwellings, in particular, the rents sought for three similar dwellings in the area.

The Minister will know what is required in the notice and in the advertisement placed in the four weeks prior to the notice in the local press.

This was an issue raised this morning and I am trying to get my head around it. Does a rent review commence when the landlord starts checking rents or when the landlord starts to look at the local papers three weeks in advance? If a landlord regularly keeps abreast of the state of the market, is that when the notice commences? What is to stop landlords from saying that they are constantly keeping the rents under review? Is it possible to fix any particular date as being the date on which a landlord commenced the review? The net question I have relates to the term "rent review" used, which is not defined in this Bill or in the amendments. When in law will that rent review be deemed to have commenced?

The Home Sweet Home campaign seized the Apollo House building last night. It is a NAMA building. It is like so many other NAMA buildings and properties that were sold off. That is one of the greatest scandals that has happened in this country. Thousands of properties were sold off to vulture funds and to different areas. It is an absolute scandal. That people would go out and seize a building shows their frustration. Many of these people are artists, such as the likes of Christy Moore, Damien Dempsey, Dean Scurry and Jim Sheridan. There were also ordinary people as well as housing action groups. The frustration at the problem we have is there. I really believe that we need to step up to the mark on this.

Where does the Minister think the money is going to come from to fund the extra 4% on a yearly basis that he is talking about in designated areas, never mind the extra 4% on each year up to three years, which is 12%? Where does the Minister think that is going to come from? How will, and will, the designated zones be brought in? How confident is the Minister that areas such as Kilkenny city, Limerick city, Carrigaline and Douglas will be included in these designated zones? How confident is the Minister that that will happen? This is what he sold to Fianna Fáil to bring it on board. How confident is the Minister about that?

I call Deputy Doherty. This is his second intervention.

It is. I wish to be associated with the words of my colleagues about the Home Sweet Home campaign. I believe it is remarkable and tremendous. We need more communities to rise up and take action in the absence of the Government listening. That is linked to this. Deputy O'Brien spelt out very clearly what we are dealing with when we are talking about the algorithms, the t/12 and what they mean. The reality of what the Government is asking us to support today is that, in the area of Cork, tenants on their first rent review will have to pay up to €521 extra. In year 2, that could go up to €542 and in year 3, €564. That means that renters in Cork listening to this debate could possibly need to find an extra €3,200 over the next three years to pay to their landlords. In Dublin, in terms of the average rent, that figure would be €4,567. Those figures are important to amplify. While Fianna Fáil representatives talk about how they are uncomfortable with this 4% increase, though it has been pointed out that they voted against rent certainty legislation on three separate occasions, that is what they are going to support today. By either their inaction or their action, they will support a measure that means renters in their communities in Dublin and Cork will be faced with those hikes over the next period.

I am deeply frustrated at how this process has gone. My interjections both last night and today have been specific to the amendments that are before us. Because of the rules of this House, I have not had a response about rent reviews that will be taking place after the enactment of this legislation for areas that are not deemed pressure zones but that will subsequently be deemed pressure zones. Regardless of notification being sent to the tenants in accordance with section 22(2), can the Minister confirm that if areas are deemed by ministerial orders as rent pressure zones, given the 90-day notice, then the rent notice will not have effect and sections 3 and 4 of this legislation would take place? That would mean that it would interfere with the process and the cap of 4% being put in place, despite how unsatisfactory that amount is.

I call Deputy O'Dowd. Is this your second intervention?

No, it is the first. An chéad uair atá ann.

It is his second.

He spoke last night.

The Deputy spoke last evening on the same issue.

Apologies. I did not hear what the Ceann Comhairle said.

You spoke last evening and made a very strong impression. I remember it clearly.

Yes. That was one of my interventions. I would like to repeat my impression in that case. I want to make it very clear that it was anticipated last night that rent in one home in Drogheda, County Louth, will increase by 65%. In Dublin, the figure is a 35% increase. It is absolutely unacceptable. This legislation is solving the problem in Dublin inasmuch as that increase will not happen into the future. I share the concerns of everybody on the case in Louth. I have listened to what the Minister has said. He has clearly and categorically said that he has identified the areas which will be acted on immediately. As we know, and as other speakers have alluded to, the facts are already provided with the housing assistance payments scheme, which was done in July, and on the RTB website.

The other point I wish to reiterate is the main point I made last night. It is about the empty homes. The number of empty homes in Dublin is about 39,000. In the State, excluding holiday homes, that number is 192,000. They are all empty. I noticed a headline on one of my internet pages that read that Vancouver is taxing owners of empty homes since last month. In other words, the city is introducing a tax if a house is vacant for a particular period of time. It is putting a tax on the fact that the house is kept empty. In England, after a building is empty for two years, twice the rate of property tax is paid. There are other measures in Scotland and right around the world. With regard to the body the Minister is setting up, I ask him to look at the tax and other financial issues relating to landlords. Would he consider examining this issue and bringing in a new tax on homes that are vacant for longer than a minimum of two years in major cities and areas of high population?

As a Deputy for Dublin West, I want to talk about the rent pressure zones and particularly the adjacent areas. I have discussed this with the Minister on a number of occasions. I am really disappointed that he has shut his eyes to addressing this particular difficulty. Anyone who knows anything about rents in big towns and cities and their adjacent neighbourhoods knows that the rent pressures are severe in the cities, but are just as severe in the adjacent counties, particularly Meath, Kildare and Wicklow. It seems perverse not to recognise this, particularly in the context in which, for quite a few people and families, the two-year rent freeze initiated by the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, is starting to come to an end.

To be honest, despite the Minister's good intentions, what he is actually doing is sending out an advice notice to landlords who are in the adjacent areas, and not as yet subject to restriction, to go ahead and increase the rent. I gave the example of a property in Clonee before. It is a very small two-bed apartment in a nice estate less than half a mile outside the Dublin boundary for which the rent is currently €850 a month. When the two-year freeze ends in a couple of months' time, the landlord has already indicated that the rent is going up to €1,200 a month. That is almost a 30% increase. For the Minister to turn his face against this reality is deeply disappointing. Many of the young couples renting in this scenario are also the people who are trying to save to buy.

This may be where the confusion lies. In recent interviews, the Minister has consistently confused a 4% return on rent for landlords with a 4% rent increase. There is no way one can actually stand over - in any logical way - a 4% annual rent increase that, when compounded, is going to come to about 12.5%. Essentially, the Minister is putting landlords on notice today that if they have the opportunity, they should seize it and go for a rent increase. It is a scandal to allow a 4% rent increase when the CPI is a fraction of that. It does not just send a certain message to landlords, it also says to motor insurers and health insurers that the Government will allow consumers of products to be fleeced and that when it comes to rent increases, fortune favours the bold who go after the maximum level of increase instead of - as with all the amendments, including that tabled by the Labour Party - tying the increase to the CPI.

The additional volatility that will be introduced to the market is going to give rise to a problem in the context of tenure. We could almost go back to Michael Davitt's time and look for a reasonable length of tenure, especially for people with children who are integrated and attending local schools. If they have to move from one suburb of Dublin to another on the far side of the city, they have to change schools. When people buy a house or are have the resources to rent privately, and if they move location, that is their choice. If people have to move location based entirely on rent pressures, it is really an extra burden on young families and very difficult for children who, over a period, are forced to settle into new schools. These families can do that with planning - and can do it in a very positive way - but there are now quite a number of families who cannot get rented properties in their existing locations due to the lack of tenure. This is not really addressed in the legislation. With regard to the changes, we have an à la carte menu which is going to do serious damage to quite a number of people.

Are the new amendments being distributed to Members?

Amendment, No. 55 incorporates the changes that we made this morning. That is my understanding.

I will give an answer to the second half of Deputy Jonathan O'Brien's question that I had not an opportunity to provide earlier. A tenancy whereby a group of tenants jointly occupy a single residential unit will be protected under the rent predictability measure. Let me be clear on the issue of rent supplement and HAP. The budget for 2017 and the Estimates are now agreed. The matter is not being reopened. There will be an extra €60 million spent next year because of the agreement last July between the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Varadkar, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, and I to increase rent supplement and HAP in line with rent increases at different levels in different parts of the State. That has already been taken into account. Rents that would otherwise be increasing at a much higher rate next year will not, in areas where there are rent pressure zones, not now do so. This will assist in reducing a widening gap between the supports that are available under HAP and rent supplement. That is because we are trying to maintain some control over rent inflation in many areas,

Reference was made to the 4%. People have latched on to what I said about 4% per annum on a rolling five-year basis being a reasonable rate of return in the context of Ireland Strategic Investment Fund investment portfolios, etc. That is, however, only one reason why we looked at the 4%. There are many other reasons. The 4% means that the level chosen is 20% lower than the long-term annual rental increases in Ireland. It also means that the maximum allowed inflation in rent pressure zones will be less than half the current annual rent inflation, which is well over 8%. When we were finalising 4% as a landing point, we looked at other countries that had introduced intervention in the market to keep rents under some control in particular areas and cities. In Germany, rents may increase by a maximum of 20% over a three-year period. This is actually a lot more than we are allowing for here. In New York, 7.5% per annum can be allowed until maximum rent is reached. In Sweden, rent can go beyond an agreed price ceiling up to a maximum of 5% and in Switzerland it is 6%. There are no examples I can find, certainly in European countries, where there is simply a flat-rate rent freeze right across the market.

As the ESRI has pointed out, if the intervention is too aggressive, supply will be undermined. That is the core problem; we need to increase supply in social housing, increase the supply of affordable rental accommodation and increase the supply of vacant properties coming onto the market. We also need to build many more affordable starter homes for people who want to move out of the private rental market and who can afford to do so. We are supporting first-time buyers, as is the Central Bank, in terms of the changed policy adopted in recent months. All of those things are about trying to increase supply. While supply increases, which will provide relief in the context of the deficit that currently exists, we need to keep some rein - on a temporary basis - on potential increases on rents. This is why we are introducing this rent predictability measure, which I believe is balanced, in the context of the other issues on which we need to deliver in the context of supply.

I take Deputy Thomas Byrne's point, but I have only just seen the press release. The Deputy may believe that this is a pro-landlord strategy, as some people have described it, but it does not seem as if the landlords are too happy, particularly in the context of what they stated today. I am not saying that is a good or bad thing. We are trying to get the balance right in terms of ensuring that landlords stay in the market, invest in increasing the size of their property portfolios and increase supply. At the same time, we are also trying to protect tenants.

Will the Minister indicate what action will be taken in that regard?

When we get criticism from both sides, it indicates that we have got the balance reasonably right. Deputy O'Dowd asked about tax and vacant homes. We have not decided to do that in this strategy, but who knows what we will do in the future? I expect that would be a decision for budget time and there would have to be a great deal of consultation before we did it.

Deputy Burton referred to lengthening tenure. We are lengthening tenure in the rental strategy from four years to six. This will be in the legislation. In time, we need to move to a non-fixed period so that we can get more permanency in terms of tenancy. My judgment was that it was not the right decision to jump from where matters stand now, namely, four-year tenancies, into indefinite tenancies. That would have resulted in many landlords pulling properties from the market, which would not be good at a time when supply is the fundamental cause of most of the problems.

Questions were asked about how an area will become a rent pressure zone. The criteria are very clear and I am glad to have the opportunity to clarify the position. It is important to understand what is involved.

The reason Cork and Dublin currently are the only parts of the country that qualify under the criteria is because we are applying a threshold criterion on the basis of local authority areas as a whole, and there are only five local authority areas that qualify. The criterion is that for four of the past six months there has been an annual rental inflation figure of more than 7%. The rent in the area concerned is above the average.

What we are asking the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, to do now is to look at more localised areas because we know that when we do that, other areas will come in. If we take Meath as a county, for example, because of rural areas in County Meath, the averages are being brought down. When we look at towns like Navan, Dunshaughlin or Naas, I am sure we will have a very different picture in terms of designating parts of a county like Meath or Kildare. When we look at local electoral areas within local authorities, and we will have the data from those areas in January and February, those areas are likely to come in. I am sure my home town of Carrigaline, which is in the local electoral area of Carrigaline and Ballincollig, is also likely to come in as a rent pressure zone.

Is that not a vacuum?

It is not a vacuum, and I will tell the Deputy why. We have to have a threshold so that if it is passed in the future, an area qualifies. If we have the means of actually testing, it has to be a rolling threshold that can be implemented in one, two or three years' time. If we decide that we will only look at the picture as it is today, we are ignoring potential pressures that may develop in the future. What we need is not a political decision to designate an area. We have to have an independent body assessing on the basis of data where we have the most pressurised rental areas, and we will intervene accordingly.

What will be the independent body?

That is how it will work, and that is why the commuter areas around Dublin, and Fianna Fáil was very strong on this aspect, are being prioritised, as are the cities of Waterford, Limerick and Galway, and the areas contiguous to Cork city because they are the areas that are likely to have rent pressure zones designated when we examine the more localised data.

In terms of Deputy Howlin's question-----

Which was to define "rent review", in essence.

Define "rent review"? I have a note on this here. On the Deputy's question on subsection (6) of my amendment, where notice has been served on a tenant before the zone is designated, the limit will not apply. This is also the case where a rent review is deemed to have commenced. This would be where negotiations between the landlord and tenant-----

That was Deputy Bríd Smith's question also.

-----have already taken place, although a formal notice has not been issued. In these cases the landlord would have to provide proof that the review had in fact commenced. When a tenant disagrees, they can refer the case to the RTB which will decide. We should remember that landlords can only start a review process two years after the last increase under the provisions introduced last year. In reading subsection (6)-----

But they can give notice.

-----we need to bear in mind that there is a general legal principle against retrospection in legislation. That clarifies most of the issues that have been raised.

In terms of designation of a rent pressure zone, where notice has been given after the commencement of the Act, the designation will void the notification.

That is the retrospection piece that I am referring to here. I will check it and come back to the Deputy, but my understanding is that if a rent review has begun before the designation takes place, I think we have clarity on that.

What triggers a rent review?

It is when the negotiations between the landlord and the tenant begin on a rent review, and it cannot happen within two years of the last rent review.

Ninety days-----

Can we have some order please? That is the Minister's final contribution-----

-----on this particular matter.

On a point of order-----

What is your point of order?

What I asked the Minister was if this legislation would apply-----

That is not a point of order.

I asked the Minister if it would apply if a landlord gave notice rather than entered negotiations with the tenant. If he gave notice of intent, does that mean he is covered by this legislation or not in the absence of any negotiations?

Deputy, that is not a point of order. I have three speakers indicating-----

It is a point of clarification. He did not answer the question.

Deputy Cowen, Deputy Howlin and Deputy Burton have indicated. Is this Deputy Cowen's first contribution on-----

Yes. I did not speak on Report Stage. I spoke earlier on the committee amendment. Further to the comments made by Deputy Byrne with regard to the Irish Professional Landlords Organisation whose members issued a statement this morning advising landlords - does Deputy Shortall have an issue with me speaking?

She had an issue with me not being here yesterday.

Deputy, carry on.

She has an issue now with me speaking.

They will have to kiss and make up.

Its members say they will consider withdrawing from State-sponsored schemes and are advising landlords to impose service charges, registration fees, car park fees, letting costs, documentation costs, call-out costs, sinking funds contributions and issues relating to local property tax. Will the Minister confirm to the House that he is aware of that? Will he instruct the Competition Authority to rule on it or is it advisable that he would meet with them as soon as possible to invite them into the process he has brought forward regarding landlords and taxation matters and a consultation period with regard to provisions that may be brought forward in the budget next year on foot of representations that were made during the course of the consultation process before his rental strategy was agreed? I am sure he had representations from many people other than ourselves, despite the fact he did not have one from the Social Democrats. The Minister might inform the House how he wishes to respond to that considering the seriousness of the matter and the fears mentioned by Deputy Byrne and others during the course of this morning's discussions.

I want to get clarity on this issue because I certainly did not get clarity from the Minister's reply. In subsection (6) there are two criteria that would make exemptions from the new subsections (3) and (4), so the 4% does not apply. It is either where a notice has been issued under section 22(2), which is clear enough - we can understand that - or where a rent review concerned has commenced. It is clear that if there are two categories, there will be two different dates and, in logic, the commencement of a rent review must be before the actual notice is issued. What constitutes the commencement of a rent review? The Minister's response to me is that it is when negotiations begin, but that is an impossibility to determine in law. There is no definition in the Bill. There is no definition in any of the amendments, and it seems to me there would be the possibility, as Deputies have said, of the Minister simply saying he has commenced a review in advance of the issuing of any notice and he is therefore exempt from the new provisions that will apply to rent pressure zones.

I do not know if the Minister is familiar with what happens when a rent review process commences. Decent landlords will often tell people significantly in advance that for one reason or another, they intend to increase the rent. In anybody's understanding, that is the beginning of a rent review process.

However, the Minister is tagging onto this a legal framework. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that at present people can then go to the Private Residential Tenancies Board and argue about when the review should commence. It will often state people have an extra one, two or three months, which it can do under the legislation. For one reason or another, it may negotiate that instead of a €300 a month increase, it will knock off €200 or more. The Minister has thrown this into total doubt. People are coming to us because the Minister is encouraging landlords who are not in designated areas. Many of these landlords are very decent and may want to keep their tenancies, but their agents, the media, the landlords' associations and everyone else are saying that they should grab their chance now and increase or they will forever lose the chance to increase rent. The Minister is causing massive confusion for people who are very fearful of what landlords will do. If a landlord states, as he or she often does, that they will have to increase the rent in several months, it is informal, but in the note he read out the Minister referred to the moment negotiations start. When do people go to the PRTB? Do they go to the PRTB immediately? Do they look for extra time before the increase comes in? Do they look for a reduction in the amount of the increase requested? This is what is happening in people's lives.

I want final clarity on this. Tenants who live in apartments in Cherry Orchard were given notice that their rent will increase by 10% in January. This does not mean they have had negotiations, but they have been given notice the rent will increase. It is not exactly a "des res" area but the rent is increasing by 10%. Will the Minister clarify for me whether the law will cover this and stop it from increasing by 10%?

This morning, the Minister misrepresented me when he stated that yesterday I asked him why rent controls. I did not. I asked him why now. I carefully went through the Constitution and the last four years of the record of this and the previous Government sitting on their hands and doing nothing while they watched rents soar. I asked him why rent controls now and not why rent controls.

What we want is real rent controls at zero. We want to bring them back to the levels that workers' pay was brought back to, which is 2011 levels. This is what is needed in the city to deal with the housing crisis, as well as what is actually happening in the city, whereby ordinary decent citizens are taking over NAMA buildings as we speak, hence the T-shirt I am wearing which states "home sweet home". Happy Christmas everybody, and fair play to the people who are taking direct action and doing something this and previous Governments have failed to do, which is bring NAMA into its proper use, which is for social value. If we did this we could liberate thousands of homes and buildings to deal with homelessness and the housing crisis. We have utterly failed because we favour developers and bankers and we are not looking after our citizens.

Fair play to the people who are occupying the NAMA building, which was previously owned by a very famous French bank but has gone into the ownership of the State. They are doing a hell of lot more to house the homeless this Christmas than the Bill but we are here speaking about it forever.

I ask the Minister to correct what I asked him yesterday, which was why now and not why, and to clarify the question.

The Minister cannot respond at this point.

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 51; Staon, 30; Níl, 40.

  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Níl

  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Burton, Joan.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • McGrath, Mattie.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Laoghaire, Donnchadh.
  • Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Staon

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Browne, James.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Collins, Niall.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Gallagher, Pat The Cope.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McGrath, Michael.
  • McGuinness, John.
  • Martin, Micheál.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Murphy, Eugene.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Troy, Robert.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Regina Doherty and Tony McLoughlin; Níl, Deputies Eoin Ó Broin and Dessie Ellis.
Amendment declared carried.

I move amendment No. 2:

In page 6, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:

“Report on the causes of delays in the construction of housing

3. The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is to report within three months of the enactment of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 on the causes of delays in the construction of housing, including—

(a) delays caused by the hoarding of land by landowners and developers,

(b) delays attributable to developers during the planning and pre-planning process,

(c) delays related to tendering rules and processes in the case of local authority own development,

and on the measures needed to address them.”.

I would like to take this opportunity to salute those who are currently occupying Apollo House, activists from the Home Sweet Home campaign and the Irish Housing Network.

That has nothing to do with this amendment. That is an abuse of this House.

Of course it does. It is directly relevant.

A Deputy

Chillax, Deputies.

Order, please.

I will explain why it has everything to do with this amendment, which provides for the insertion of the following provision:

The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is to report within three months of the enactment of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 on the causes of delays in the construction of housing, including—

(a) delays caused by the hoarding of land by landowners and developers,

(b) delays attributable to developers during the planning and pre-planning process,

(c) delays related to tendering rules and processes in the case of local authority own development,

and on the measures needed to address them.”.

(Interruptions).

Can we have order for the Deputy?

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for that. The people occupying Apollo House today are illustrating the empty buildings owned by NAMA, owned by people of this country, and by taking it over they are showing how it can be put to use for ordinary people. The many prominent activists, people from the Irish Housing Network, the Home Sweet Home campaign, the Simon Community and many trade unionists and musicians who have come together there, are teaching the Government and the Dáil a lesson about what could be done to deal with our housing and homelessness crisis if there was not a precedence put on the right of landlords to profit from the massive resources that exist in this State and among people in this country. I encourage people to go down to support them, I encourage Deputies to go down to visit them but, most importantly, I encourage ordinary people to get involved and to volunteer their services, as has been happening, to provide practical assistance to those who are experiencing the housing crisis.

This amendment is very relevant because it relates to the question of supply. The Government argument regarding the previous group of amendments dealing with rent control and the housing crisis in general is to raise the question of supply. We need to have a balance between tenants and landlords and between prospective home owners, workers in reality, and developers in order to incentivise the provision of supply. This amendment proposes that there would be a report on why supply is not being delivered. For example, 27,000 planning permissions have been granted in Dublin but why are only 4,400 currently being used by developers? That question and a report on that would get to the heart of why we have the crisis in this State. Development is not taking place because of the search and the drive for the maximisation of profit. Mr. Brendan McDonagh, the chief executive officer of NAMA, who is at the top of the organisation that controls Apollo House said: "Many developers are "not satisfied" with a €20,000 profit on a €300,000 home. They would rather wait until prices rose to a point at which a €50,000 profit was possible." He explained to the housing committee that "if sales prices went up by 5%, the profit would increase to €30,000. If it went up to 10%, the profit would increase to €40,000. That is the dynamic of the market."

That is the dynamic of the market of which the Government is in favour. It is the dynamic that the Minister, Deputy Noonan, made explicitly clear in his budget and the first-time buyer's proposals, which were about increasing profits for developers and trying to incentivise them further. What we are witnessing is not an absence of land or suitable homes or workers to build homes where they do not exist, but a strike of capital. Greedy developers and private investors have deliberately created a housing shortage in order to drive prices up and up. The Government's response to that is to assist them in driving prices up and up in order to assist in the provision of maximisation of super profits for them. They are holding everybody to ransom by demanding a host of new tax breaks and incentives in order to incentivise them to start building houses now as opposed to in a few years time when another 10,000, 15,000 or 20,000 people will have become homeless. Others may never build and are simply hoarding land and watching while prices rise. For example, last December, Cairn Homes bought up over 6,000 sites in north Dublin for €19,000 each. Equivalent sites are now selling for €100,000, adding €81,000 straight onto the price of each house, which means that Cairn Homes and its backer, the US vulture fund, Lone Star, could make a profit of almost €0.5 billion just by selling the sites. This is pointing towards a major reason for the housing crisis and the lack of supply of homes. It relates to their wish to maximise profit and the Government's approach is to facilitate that. We are looking for a report into this so that we can have the facts which we think will be very damning in terms of the free market system and a reliance on that system to provide homes for people in this country.

Does Deputy Mick Barry want to contribute?

I second that point.

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Sometimes people power and action in the real world clarify what political or media debate in this House obscures. That is the contrast we are drawing regarding the Minister's explanation, as manifest in this Bill, for why there is a problem in providing the famous supply of affordable housing that we urgently need to deal with the crisis. Our explanation and, more importantly, the explanation of those who are occupying the NAMA building, which is seven or eight storeys high and could accommodate hundreds of people, is that it is in public ownership and has been sitting empty for years. That is the contrast.

What this amendment suggests is that the Minister is wrong in this Bill in identifying the delays in the planning process as being the problem. That is what this Bill tells us, namely, that it is the planning process, public consultation, democracy, public oversight and bureaucratic red tape. That is essentially what a series of the proposals in the Bill suggest is the problem in delivering the famous supply that we so urgently need.

We will be coming to the planning issue in the next amendment.

That is what this amendment deals with. It points out that we need to establish what is the real delay. That is what it is asking for, and it points to the fact that the biggest delay is the fault of the landlords, developers and property owners. I note the Minister is shaking his head. Can he explain why a building in NAMA hands is sitting empty? Is it because of problems with the planning process? No, that is not the reason it is empty, even though hundreds of people could move in there. The problem is that the developers are waiting for the optimum moment to realise the biggest possible profit from that site. The mandate of NAMA set down by the Minister's Government is facilitating that and the people who are down there are exposing that fact. Even at the most micro level, we can see it.

Perhaps the Minister could intervene in this matter. When I was down there this morning I met plumbers who were trying to connect running water and install heat in the building but a representative of what I presume is the receiver refused access to the plumbers. The people down there include the Simon Community, Peter McVerry and members of the Unite and Mandate unions. They are providing individual rooms for people who cannot find accommodation in the available emergency accommodation. They are not substituting for what exists already but when that emergency accommodation reaches capacity tonight, those people who do not have anywhere to sleep will have bedding in individual rooms with supports provided by the Simon Community and other volunteers. The receiver is physically preventing plumbers who want to install heat and connect water in that building from doing so.

I believe that is utterly reprehensible. It is the result of the fact that a building owned by us is in the hands of people who just want to make a profit out of it. They do not want the public, even though we own it, to have any say in how it can be moved immediately into social and public use. That demonstrates in a microcosm, a rather significant microcosm because it is a big building, what is the real problem. The State has the capacity to provide directly, immediately and quickly the emergency accommodation necessary. It is failing to do so not because we have to override planning processes. We could get a change of use from office to residential relatively quickly.

We have just done that with three buildings.

There would not be much resistance to that. The problem is that the private developers will dictate the pace of when the planning application goes in, for what purposes it will be, what the prices are and all the rest. It will not be decided in the public interest, for the needs of the homeless or for the State, which effectively owns the property. That is the problem and that is what Members on this side of the House are trying to highlight. More importantly, people are now fed up with the failure, inaction and inadequacy of the response of this House and this Government. They are saying they will do what the politicians are failing to do. They are quite right. Will the Minister use some influence with NAMA to allow the plumbers to be able to install the water and heat into the building to accommodate homeless people who would otherwise be on the street, freezing over the next several weeks?

I can completely understand the frustration which has caused the occupation of the particular building in question. It is so offensive to walk around Dublin city and see the extent of homelessness.

The Social Democrats supports this amendment. I do not believe the word "planning" should be included in this Bill because it is about development. It will cut out local authorities, centralise a system for large planning applications and will not have sufficient oversight. Each time the market fails, the public pays the price by being cut out of the process or it being made more difficult for it to get into the process. The last time a €20 charge was introduced for planning queries. This time it will be made more difficult and there will not be an appeals process.

We need to know the other range of solutions. I can bring the Minister to sites with planning permission in high demand areas which have not been developed. There are other reasons involved which we need to look into. Planning permission for 27,000 housing units in Dublin alone has not been acted on. If that does not tell the Minister there is another reason, I do not know what does.

I warmly support this amendment and ask the Minister to accept it. It would require him to come back to us to identify some of the fundamental issues around supply, which is obviously the critical background to the outrageous rent gauging we have seen over the past several years. The amendment attempts to deal with that.

In my constituency, on the north fringe of Dublin City Council and on the south fringe of Fingal County Council, planning permission has been granted for thousands of units over the years but the sites remain undeveloped. The plans made at the turn of the century for the major new urban district of north Dublin involving 30,000 units, comparable to a city the size of Waterford, have simply not happened. It was because we depended on the developer-banking led model of housing development. Yesterday, on Leaders' Questions, the Tánaiste in reply to Deputy Mary Lou McDonald said there would be 18,000 completions this year. The Department's website states there have been 11,700 completions up to October this year. We were predicting, hopefully, that it would be up to between 13,500 and 14,000.

It will be over 17,000.

Where did the Tánaiste get the figure of 18,000? Since 2008 and 2009, housing output has been disastrous in addressing the needs of the hundreds of thousands of people on housing lists. On Second Stage, I said I could not see if the blockages were due to local authorities. I have discussed this since with senior planning personnel in Dublin City Council and other Dublin local authorities. We turned out incredible annual numbers in the mid-noughties such as 57,000, 68,000, 76,000, 80,000, 90,000 and 78,000 units with the current system. Will the Minister accept this reasonable amendment and start focusing on supply?

I salute those people in Home Sweet Home and the Irish Housing Network, driven to desperation and who felt the need to get some housing a week before Christmas. I also salute the Unite trade union and all the other organisations which have supported it.

I commend the amendment.

The Labour Party is happy to support this eminently sensible amendment. I would be surprised if the Minister has been waiting for an amendment like this to look at the issue of the causes of delays in the construction of housing. I hope the Department has already begun to do that, especially as the Minister has told us many times that there is planning permission for 27,000 housing units in the greater Dublin area. It is an absolute disgrace that developers are sitting on those planning permissions and not building.

We need a lot more in the way of stick rather than carrot. That is why the vacant sites levy was introduced by the previous Government. We proposed it should come forward earlier than intended. That is also why we proposed in our Bill last week that we should implement the recommendations of the Kenny report, which would be a deterrent to developers sitting on land which could be used for building social houses in the future.

I thought the Department would have had all of the information being sought by the amendment, which appears to me to be reasonable enough. If the Department has all of the information, then rather than wait for the three months proposed in the amendment, the Minister should publish it.

I am particularly interested in the information the Minister has gathered from the local authorities. Earlier today, I raised the fact that there is land, some owned by the Health Service Executive and some by local authorities. I do not know what analysis was carried out relative to the availability of that land for housing. I question again the availability of houses, particularly in the Dublin area, from the banks which have boarded up houses which are no longer occupied. They are also available. This takes us back to providing a comprehensive supply of houses by bringing all of these houses into play, bringing an agency into play in terms of the other repossessions which will take place in the course of 2017 and by bringing those houses into public ownership. I do not see anything wrong with that.

The reaction of those occupying the building in question is out of frustration and anger at the political system because it has not delivered. One can say what one likes and disagree with them for occupying the building.

One has to understand the frustration that not only they but others all over the country are experiencing because they see houses boarded up and inactivity from the county councils. They do not see any of the CEOs or county managers, as they were, being held to account. This morning, the Minister heard Deputy McGrath make the very same point. They are the housing authorities. If one goes to any county council and looks at the staff levels in terms of the delivery of houses, they are no longer involved in refuse collection but there were no staff reductions. Irish Water is now there and there are still no staff reductions. They have a housing brief that they are not capable of fulfilling for some reason or other. We have to find out why. It is not all to do with planning. It has to do with a sensible approach to providing houses in the locations where they are most needed. They are mainly in the urban areas. Others want to live in their own community in rural Ireland. There is no response from the council. If one goes to the council and listens to any of the debates, they are so caught up in bureaucratic processes they have lost sight of the reason why they are there, which is to serve the people and deliver houses. One then has the farcical situation where houses that have been occupied by local authority tenants become vacant for some reason and are boarded up. That is why people are now beginning to react the way the group referred to has reacted. It is a result of the frustration and anger about the system not delivering to them. The Minister needs to address that. We need to address why the county councils, which are the housing authorities, are simply not able, for some reason, to deliver on the housing needs of their own county. It cannot be staff levels. The central question is why for the past ten years when this was a growing problem they did not act on it. Why did they not begin to buy land and houses and begin to house people on the housing list? There are some 120,000 on that list. There are 3,500 in Kilkenny. If one was to look at how that list is being massaged in terms of HAP, rent allowance or RAS, one has to add those people back in because currently they are being housed in rented properties, which is not secure. The Minister has to insist that county managers look at why HSE lands are not being used and why they have buildings with three and four floors where only one floor is used. Why is it that the other floors are not used? Why is it they cannot access the Minister's money to build or refurbish those buildings to house people? I made the point this morning that the mortgage-to-rent scheme is not working because of bureaucracy. That is why it is not working. It is frustrating people. The last thing I will say on the building is that, legal or not, no one should be deprived of heat or water during this time.

I will repeat the point I made earlier. A solution to this problem is staring us in the face but we are not tackling it in this context. Vacant houses do not require JCBs or builders. They only require a key in the hands of the tenant so they can go up to the house and turn it. In this city alone, there are 36,000 such homes. We do not know how long they have been vacant. I acknowledge and welcome the Minister's initiative. We should look at further incentives to landlords if necessary to bring houses onto the market. I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan's point about the stick and the carrot. I will repeat my point and accept I may not have particular support for it in the House but I have it outside. We have to bring in a tax on houses that are empty for two years or more. It will be a tax on an empty home and there should be no issue of somebody having died and the property not being sorted out. There should be no issues with estate management and the division of property and stuff like that within the family. Other countries are dealing with it. Britain, Scotland and Canada, including Vancouver, are dealing with it. I have been doing my own research on the web. It is being dealt with. Where there is a significant shortage of houses, this has been introduced and it works.

As a member of the housing committee, I looked at this issue about NAMA. I am not commenting on any of the issues that have been discussed in other rooms in this House about properties and all of that. It is an undeniable, incontrovertible fact that NAMA offered 6,890 family homes, dwellings or flats, 73% of which were apartments, to local authorities up and down the country. Whatever one says about NAMA, one cannot dispute the fact it offered the homes to local authorities which took 2,700 of them. That is also a fact. The other fact is that if estates were unfinished, NAMA has made it exceptionally clear in the correspondence. I submitted FOI requests to every local authority in the country to look at this issue. NAMA offered to put them back into shipshape so they could be used as dwellings. It said if they were vandalised after that, it would bring them up to proper, habitable standards. That is a damning indictment of local authorities. Some 800 homes were turned down by some, not all, of the four local authorities in the greater Dublin area. That is 800 houses that people could be in tonight as tenants. All of the homeless families in hotels in Dublin this very night could have been in a council-owned or council-leased property if the councils had acted but they did not.

My final point goes back to the point that was made on the other side of the House. Local authorities have land. The health boards have land. Bus Éireann, Irish Rail and a lot of the State companies have land. It is not being built on. In many cases, local authorities do not have the money to invest. There is a very simple answer. We should go for a public private partnership. The council would own the land. We should go for a public private partnership and tell the developers to build the houses and the Government will provide the services. That is why the Minister in supplying €200 million in the budget to service land around the country. We need to look a bit harder at these issues. We need local authorities to act. If they do not have the funds, there are funds out there in the marketplace and there are funds with the Irish Strategic Investment Fund. Funding is available for housing. It is available at a pretty low rate of interest. All of this debate today is very important. It will not put one extra home on the market. It will not do that right now but it will give certainty to people who are renting. For God's sake, let us examine again why those people are on the streets of Dublin, why they have occupied that property and why there is anger and rage at the empty houses around the country with nobody in them. We must stand up for the ordinary people of this country. We must do it. The Minister is doing this in giving them certainty for their rent future. We need to do more. We cannot put back the clock. What happened in the past is done. We can insist on radical alternatives. I do not think it is radical to bring in a tax on empty homes if they are empty for two years or more. It took some time for us to stare this rent issue in the face.

I read with disgust comments today of so-called landlords. I do not know if anybody has read it.

It is an appalling statement which they have made. They do not represent the majority of landlords like the ones I know personally. I would have to use unparliamentary language to describe them. They are full of-----

It is more than anger. We need more radical solutions, if that is what people call them. I think they are practical, realistic and will put families in a home. It can be done quickly and we do not even have to build a house to do it.

The houses are there already.

I too support the amendment. There is a little bit of misinformation about Apollo House and I regret that it is being politicised. The developer who had control of it at one stage is not sitting on it. He does not have a say in what happens to it. The history behind what is happening in Apollo House has yet to be told. I approve of the fact that it has been taken over. While it has been done in an irregular manner, this is how things happen sometimes, and the Minister should facilitate the unit being made fit for purpose so these people can stay off the streets and out of the cold and rain over the Christmas period. They should be left in it, after it has been made fit for purpose, until suitable accommodation has been found for them. Although it might seem a bit strange to the Minister, I think it would be a good position for him to take on the matter.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd spoke about the empty units. It would be interesting if the Deputy saw the figures on the empty units in Dublin. A huge number of them are in the possession of different financial sectors. The Deputy was complaining about the local authorities as against NAMA offering them units. If there is a battle between the merits of how NAMA behaves and how our local authorities are behaving, NAMA will not win. The Deputy referred to the fact that the Government is introducing rent certainty. I agree with him. It is the certainty that it will cost too much for too many people to keep a roof over their heads. PPPs are a licence for investment funds to print money. No well organised state would ever use them.

Our party also supports the amendment and the people in Apollo House. If the amendment were enacted, it would report back that some of the stick measures to push supply are contained, unfortunately, in amendments Nos. 7 and 8, which have been ruled out of order. Those amendments set out very practical measures to introduce changes to the Derelict Sites Act, advance the vacant site levy and introduce a site value tax as a real mechanism across the city, not just Apollo House, to get properties onto the market. I support the idea of re-examining it in three months' time. This is the real crisis and emergency. We have the mechanisms to deal with it in some of those measures, as set out in our amendments, and a report would help bring them into action.

Although I do not condone what is happening in Apollo House, I have sympathy. Housing applicants in my constituency ring me day in day out saying they are already threatening to break down the doors of empty properties in my constituency that have been vacant for a long time already. The onus is on the providers and owners to get off their butts and get something done about making these houses available.

I have never been a fan of NAMA. A Tupperware sale would give a better return to the Government than NAMA's property sales in the initial days. It was a pure disgrace. This is the first time I have spoken in the Chamber on the issue. I watched some of the best buildings and property in the country being sold for nothing. NAMA is trying to play catch up, and that is probably what is happening. Brendan McDonagh is turning on the builders and telling them he wants to make more money out of them now, after they have taken a haircut of 40% or 50% in many cases. I have sympathy. I am a middle of the road man on the issue, but I have concern.

Deputies Fergus O'Dowd, Mick Wallace and John McGuinness have focused on the local authorities. I remember two or two and a half years ago when a Labour Party Deputy put down a parliamentary question asking what property NAMA had offered to local authorities. The figure of 6,500 was mentioned. It was well covered in the national newspapers. I went to my local authority's housing department and the offers stated in the newspaper did not correspond with what it had been given. NAMA was playing a right charade in trying to bluff the Members here. Those offers did not go properly. It was a pure charade. The property was not made available.

Getting back to my own neck of the woods, while I am not in a zoned area, we have a rent problem due to the lack of availability of housing stock, although we might not have the same rent demands. A secretary in a solicitor's office in Mitchelstown might be doing the same type of work as a secretary in a solicitor's office in Cork city, but would be paid much less than a secretary in Cork city or in Dublin. People in receipt of rent supplement in high-rent areas such as Cork city and Dublin receive extra allowances. That is why I am concerned about rent increases. Will it affect the whole country? Disposable income will not be the same for those working in rural areas as for those in urban areas. We must think out the amendment more properly.

I had not planned on speaking and I will not hold up the proceedings of the Bill, but I speak as a parliamentarian with a conscience. I am a spokesperson for children and youth affairs. Earlier this morning, before I came to the Dáil, I read on Facebook about what was happening in Apollo House. Whether it is right or wrong, in the week before Christmas those people need a roof over their heads. I am emotional about it. It is very easy for us to walk down Grafton Street and pass people who are putting down a bed for the night. It is not right. That is the social conscience in me.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett and I are on completely opposite sides of the fence. However, he has asked for heat and electricity for the people in Apollo House for Christmas. I am saying the same, for Christmas, if that is what they need. I have a good understanding, and I can believe there would be very little communication as to the right way of going about these things. Sometimes it is easier to get up and give out, and there are processes. I do not know what process there is, other than coming here today and asking. It puts the Minister on the back foot and it is hard for him to answer. I know there are processes and avenues and good communication and I, above all, know the Department works very hard and the Minister, along with all the spokespersons in the House, has taken his brief very seriously. However, as Deputy John McGuinness and Deputy Fergus O'Dowd said, there is frustration out there.

Let us show the heart, if it can be shown. Let some communication happen. There are 2,500 homeless children in Dublin. There are people putting down their mattresses in front of shops on Grafton Street. If it gives them comfort over Christmas, and if Focus Ireland and all the other people are on board saying this is what we need to do, then let the plumber in.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the amendment. The people in Apollo House are to be commended. I saw only last night a man lying on cardboard boxes on the footpath across the road from here, a sleeping bag pulled over him. It is an appalling situation.

Much of the discussion has centred on Dublin and other high pressure zones. I understand that the problem is extremely acute in Dublin, but when one goes outside the city and the Pale and into the commuter belt, which includes Laois and places such as Kildare, one sees rents skyrocketing there also. According to CSO figures, rents in Laois have increased by 13.6% in a 12 month period and in County Kildare by 13.4%. Cases have come to me in which people's rents have increased by 40%. This is a huge problem. One matter not being address here - riddle me this - is the rent allowance thresholds. Considering the thresholds for Laois or Kildare for the different sizes of household, what people pay in rent is way over the thresholds. I say to the Minister what I said to Deputy Joan Burton here three years ago. The secretary in his office is telling lies, my secretary is telling lies and I am telling lies every day because we are putting incorrect information on housing application forms. We are pretending that people's rents are €600 per month when they are €850 or €900 per month. We are telling lies to work the system. The true measure that the system is failing is not only the homeless people on the street, but also the fact that we are all telling lies and pretending the system is working when it is not. I therefore question even the data that are available. Out of any ten people applying for rent supplement who have come through my office, nine were telling lies, whether it be in Monasterevin in south Kildare, Mountmellick, Port Laoise or anywhere else. These are the facts of the matter. This is putting huge pressure on people. Many cases have come to me in which people's rent supplement is €300 and their rent is €800 so they are paying the €500 difference. These are people on €217 per week who have children and who are trying to run a household. They should be given a medal. I do not know how they do it and stay sane. This needs to be addressed.

Regarding homelessness, unless we cap rents across the State, all we are doing is scratching the surface with the Bill. We are not dealing with the situation. There is a problem with this in every county. We must have rent caps that are linked to the level of inflation and do not rise above it.

We have heard talk of supply. I have watched buy-to-lets go up for sale around where I live. They are being sold without a problem. They are being snapped up by people buying up property who then let them. There is no problem getting investors into the market. I do not go along with that idea. It is a load of rubbish. We must cut off the source of the problem. If a pipe is leaking in a house, one can run around all day mopping it up but if the leaking pipe is not fixed, the problem is not solved. This is the key fact. I say this to the Minister very directly because I want to be constructive in this.

There are 200,000 empty homes and 47,000 or 48,000 holiday homes in Ireland, according to the census. This means that there are 250,000 empty homes in the State, if I read the census correctly. I returned to it to read it a second time and, as far as I can see, I am reading it correctly. This is a problem. A suggestion has come from the Government benches in this regard. We are also making suggestions as to how to deal with this issue and try to get some of these houses into the market.

Regarding rent caps, we are dancing on the head of a pin. All the agonising is due to our desire to stop rents rising, which has happened to a massive degree. Figures have been quoted here in this regard in the past few days. The rents people are being charged are astronomical. The Government states it will put a cap on them and only allow them to increase by 12% in a few areas. The landlords' lobby, which does not represent all landlords, is bombarding all Deputies to try to put pressure on us not to introduce rent caps. Do not mind the landlords. Let us have a bit of humanity here for a change. What we need to do is what is done in other northern European countries, that is, introduce rent caps linked to the level of inflation and stand up for what is right. We should forget about the people who have the money and all the power and influence. Let us deal with the citizens who face the new year on the street. It is very important that we do this.

I wish to speak briefly and directly to the amendment as presented, which calls for a report on the causes of delays in the construction of housing. While the amendment is well-intentioned, I contend that many of these causes have been well researched by the all-party Committee on Housing and Homelessness, other committees and the Minister's report, Rebuilding Ireland. The bigger and more direct challenge is, having examined the causes and identified potential solutions, many of which are actions in the Minister's action plan, implementing them and monitoring the implementation in real time for progress and so forth. Specific concerns in this regard should include delays caused by the hoarding of land, a vacant site tax, around which recommendations have been made, and the interaction between local authorities and the Minister's Department. The number of stages in the process were reduced, but they need to be monitored to ensure they are done in a timely fashion. The planning process is being dealt with in the legislation, so many of the issues about which people show concern in the amendment have been identified. There have been recommendations on actions, both in the Minister's report and that of the Committee on Housing and Homelessness. The real challenge is to implement them in a timely fashion. I am not sure commissioning another report is what is needed. Monitoring and enforcing the recommendations is probably more urgent at this stage. I concur with Deputy O'Dowd that the first port of call in a housing emergency is to deal with the vacant properties we have, and I have said this before. A small percentage of vacant properties brought back into immediate use would have a massive effect, particularly for those living in emergency and homeless accommodation at the moment.

I agree with many of the comments Deputy John Curran has just made. I understand exactly what is being asked for in this amendment. I think those Deputies who have got to know me as Opposition spokespeople will know that I have no problem talking about data, reports and assessments and setting targets and trying to meet them. However, to insert in the legislation a requirement for a once-off review process to conclude within three months in some ways misses the point a little. We have a very complex series of matters we need to solve, including homelessness, the private rental market, social housing, the construction industry, the planning system, the interaction between my Department, local authorities and a series of different State agencies in order to consider how we use national land banks. We are carrying out an audit on all of this. All of this complexity is encompassed in the Rebuilding Ireland action plan, which is constantly being monitored and will constantly be updated and upgraded as we need to adapt to changing realities and challenges and so on. I do not see the sense in the idea of having a kind of once-off review three months after this legislation is enacted, nor in the suggestion that this will change things fundamentally. I need to be accountable on a weekly basis in this House for a whole series of things, some of which are mentioned in this amendment, but there are many other issues. A number of Deputies have mentioned Apollo House. I am only reading on my phone now what has been developing there. There is nobody more aware than I am of the challenges homeless families and individuals face right now. We have more than 1,800 emergency bed places in Dublin. I am assured by the Dublin Homeless Executive that there is a bed for everybody who wants one in Dublin in emergency shelters, which are kitted out and staffed for this purpose.

I understand that the aspiration of the group in Apollo House is to accommodate approximately 30 people in that facility. We have opened two new hostels in the past ten days and a third hostel will be open within days as a result of today's court decision to remove a stay on the opening of a hostel on Francis Street. The combination of all three will provide an extra 210 beds for the system, which is important because we do not have enough beds and we have not had enough beds. I was asked a number of months ago to add an extra 120 or 125 beds to the system to increase capacity for the winter. I made a decision to go way beyond that. When one considers that a further 30 beds will be available in an emergency fall-back facility if it is needed in extreme weather, the actual number of additional beds that will be available will be 240.

I understand the frustration of people in Apollo House. Homelessness is my first priority in my brief. We are pumping a lot of extra money into it. I have made it clear to Dublin City Council that money is not the issue. I commend the team in Dublin City Council on its response to what I have asked of it in recent months. Work on moving into three premises started on 1 November and the addition of 210 extra beds, with staffing, medical and wraparound supports to ensure these are safe places to stay, was completed by 9 December. While I understand the frustration and motivation of those who are trying to occupy a building and put such supports together in an ad hoc way, I do not think it is how this issue should be dealt with. As the responsible Minister in this area, I am very accessible to the CEOs of homelessness organisations like Focus Ireland, the Simon Community, the Peter McVerry Trust and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. The CEOs have my phone number and can call me directly at any time. They know that if they ask for more resources and more beds, they will get them. That is why, following the opening of the Francis Street facility in the next few days, we will have an extra 230 beds in place before Christmas.

I recognise the frustration that other people have expressed. People sometimes feel that immediate action is needed to take a stand. When it comes to solving the problems of people who have nowhere to go at night, the answer is to sit down and work out sustainable solutions. When that is done, the State will invest the resources needed to ensure supports are provided. It has been an extraordinary year for homelessness. I refer to the number of people who have come into homelessness. It has also been a record year in terms of the number of people who have been taken out of homelessness. This year, there will be 2,700 solutions found for families and individuals. That is approximately 500 more solutions than in any other previous year, including last year, which was a record year.

That is a terrible record to be drawing on.

I am just trying to put this into context. We are ramping up the supports that are necessary. Ultimately, we need homes for people through social housing programmes rather than emergency beds. In the short term, we need to increase emergency facilities.

We are also kitting out facilities for families. This will ensure families who find themselves homeless can make a proper transition and find a sustainable home through social housing or housing assistance payment supports. I will get briefed later on the detail in relation to Apollo House. I encourage Deputies to engage with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive with regard to the 30 people whom it was planned to accommodate in Apollo House, which is not kitted out to look after people with complex needs. The new emergency shelter we are opening in Francis Street, which has approximately 80 beds, is kitted out for such purposes. The shelter, which has all the necessary wraparound services and facilities, needs to be filled. As Minister with responsibility for housing and homelessness, I am serious about trying to work with Dublin City Council, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive and many voluntary organisations to try to put sustainable solutions in place and ensure nobody who wants safe shelter at night is refused it.

I take the point that is being made by those who have proposed this amendment. I will happily come before the House in one, two, three or six months' time to answer questions on these matters and to give the public much of the data we have been gathering since the summer. Opposition Deputies may not be aware that in addition to preparing three detailed reports on the patterns and pace of planning decision-making in the four Dublin local authority areas - the three reports relate to land availability for housing, delivery blockages and the wider funding of economic viability problems in the supply of housing through the Dublin housing supply and co-ordination task force - my Department is also tracking on a quarterly basis the progress of planning permissions in the Dublin area and the level of uptake in activity and anticipated additional starts. I must say that the signs are becoming more positive in this regard, with the volumes of pre-application consultations and commencement notices showing steady increases. We will make the details of the progress that is being made in those areas publicly available on the Rebuilding Ireland website in the new year.

I understand what is being asked for here, but I do not think this is the right way to do it. I do not agree that a one-off report that relates to a single point in time should be catered for in legislation in the manner that is proposed here. Instead, I should be giving the House information on a regular basis about the progress that is being made across a multitude of areas within the wider housing area.

I would like to respond to a couple of points made in the Minister's reply. I thank the Deputies who have expressed support for this amendment. While I take the Minister 100% at face value when he says that homelessness is a priority for him, I think the figures he mentioned when he spoke about those who have exited from homelessness are not worth much. The only reason more people have been exiting homelessness is that there have been more people entering homelessness. The wheel is getting bigger and bigger and spinning faster and faster. The Minister's statistics do not speak to a solution or a sense that we are getting to grips with the problems of homelessness.

This point is related to the Minister's suggestion that the Apollo House proposal is not the way to deal with this. Those involved in the proposal respectfully believe the State and the Government have failed to made appropriate provision in this regard. Some people who have been at the coalface of trying to assist people in housing crisis situations for a long time, such as those involved in the Inner City Helping Homeless campaign and the Irish Housing Network, have decided to take action because they do not feel the Government's solutions are working. I salute them for demonstrating that resources exist in NAMA buildings that are not being used but could be used. I do not believe they are doing this in an amateurish or ham-fisted way. Their plan involves putting in place sustainable places for 30 people. I think they will be able to deliver that. The Minister has said that it would be better to do this in another way, but the people to whom I refer equally believe their efforts constitute the best thing to do. I ask him to assist them, or at least not to get in their way, with regard to electricity and plumbing.

I would like to make a final point on this amendment. I accept that much of the information we are looking for already exists. It is a question of compiling a report on this issue. It is vital that we come up with an assessment of why there are delays in supplying housing. That is central to all the things we are debating. Our request to be provided with a report in three months' time does not preclude us from getting other information. It is eminently sensible.

While information may be available to the Minister and in local authorities regarding the delays in delivering the housing supply that is needed, the point here is that such information is not being collated in a way that clarifies the debate we are having with the Minister about what exactly is causing those delays. The thrust of the Bill before the House is to suggest that proper public consultation and proper planning processes are somehow hampering the delivery of housing, particularly affordable housing. I do not accept that this is the case.

The Apollo House action demonstrates, rightly, and points to the failure of the State to use its resources directly via NAMA as well as other resources to deliver what the market is not delivering. In fact, the market is obstructing the delivery of the alternative.

I went down to Apollo House today simply to offer support and not out of some desire to politicise something. The activists there asked me to take some of the T-shirts and publicise the takeover and urge public support. The plumbers happened to be there and they said they had gone in. As I understand it, there is no difficulty with the electricity; the problem is the heat and water. They need to be addressed. Plumbers were there and ready to work. A security man there said he represented the private owners. I am unsure of the exact situation. I was informed by the representatives at the building that NAMA and, somehow, BNP Paribas are involved. A private security man is there inhibiting plumbers from getting in to provide the hot water and heating that is necessary. They are not suggesting this as a substitute for the emergency accommodation that the Government or the Dublin Region Homeless Executive are providing. They maintain it is an excess for those who have nowhere to go.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 39; Staon, 27; Níl, 50.

  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McGrath, Finian.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Moran, Kevin Boxer.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Browne, James.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Scanlon, Eamon.
  • Troy, Robert.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Paul Murphy and Richard Boyd Barrett; Níl, Deputies Regina Doherty and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.

Amendment No. 3 in the names of Deputies Wallace, Clare Daly, Connolly, Pringle, Eamon Ryan, Catherine Martin, Catherine Murphy, Shortall, Boyd Barrett, Gino Kenny and Bríd Smith, arises out of Committee Stage proceedings.

Amendments Nos. 3 to 8, inclusive; 9 to 31, inclusive; 33 to 35, inclusive are related. Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 are physical alternatives to No. 4; amendment No. 11 is a physical alternative to No. 10; amendments Nos. 15 and 16 are physical alternatives to No. 14; No. 20 is a physical alternative to 19; No. 30 a physical alternative to 29. Amendments Nos. 3 to 6, inclusive, Nos. 9 to 31, inclusive, and Nos. 33 to 35, inclusive, will be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 6, to delete lines 10 to 35, and in page 7, to delete lines 1 to 22.

This amendment is related to measures that the Government seems to feel will speed up the planning process. To start I will quote some comments from Mr. Gavin Daly of the geography department in National University of Ireland, Maynooth, who does not see much merit in what the Government is trying to do:

The apparent rationale for this fast-tracked planning consent system is that: "with almost all planning approvals of larger housing developments for 100 new homes or more being appealed to An Bord Pleanála, this has meant that there is in effect a two-stage planning application process which can take 18 to 24 months to secure ultimate approval to go on site and start to build." (Pg 62). Of course, no evidence is presented to support this assertion. Indeed, An Bord Pleanála’s own annual report, published earlier this month, states that: "The number of appeal cases for housing developments received over the past two years has remained low, 35 cases of 30+ units in 2014 versus the peak of 568 in 2007. While the number of 30+ housing appeals received has increased slightly (60 to the end of 2015), the number of such cases remains low." (Pg 35). All of these appeals, according to An Bord Pleanála, have been disposed of within the statutory compliance time of eighteen weeks. Furthermore, there is also no evidence whatsoever that the strategic infrastructure process actually speeds-up the planning system, with just half of such applications over the past ten years decided upon within eighteen weeks and, only then, after lengthy pre-application consultations.

The reality is that, despite the assiduous commitment by influential commentators over the past few years to successfully paint a picture of planning as the chief villain and bugbear in impeding housing supply, permission is currently in place for 27,000 shovel ready homes in Dublin alone. According to the strategy, just 4,809 or 18% of these potential units are currently under active construction i.e. 82% of potential homes with planning permission are not commenced at all. The planning system is clearly not the impediment here.

In 2015 there were 985 residential housing appeals to An Bord Pleanála with 75% of determinations confirming, with or without variation, the decision made by the local authority. In 2015 also 82% of all priority appeals made to An Bord Pleanála were disposed of within their targeted timeline of 18 weeks. These statistics would suggest that permitting applications for large housing developments to be made directly to An Bord Pleanála will not achieve the goal of reducing the timeframes in which planning permissions can be achieved. We will be left with a less positive, less efficient planning process.

I have been speaking to planners in Dublin city whom I have worked with about what the Government is doing. These are people with a lot of experience in this area, who know what they are talking about and who have contributed in a very good way to the development of our city. I do not know whether the Minister has consulted with these people but they do not think this is the way to go. I am not sure where the Minister is getting the advice that has led him to assume this is the way forward. I listened to the Minister on Committee Stage making a case that there will be a facility for engagement with planners in the pre-application process but there will be no obligation whatever for people to take on board what transpires from these. It will not be statutory. The Minister is watering down the way in which we do planning in Ireland. This is not a good way to go. We are doing it for developments greater than 100 units. If the Minister looks at what has happened in Ireland in the past 30 years, the places where it was found things had not been done as well as they should have been done were more often than not the large rather than the small developments.

I am concerned about who is being facilitated, its impact on the delivery of housing and I suspect the large players who have more clout than many others are not necessarily the people who will save us and deliver us from the housing crisis. I realise the Minister feels that those who will deliver more units per development will get us there more quickly but it is not a philosophy I agree with. I do not think the likes of Hines and Kennedy Wilson are our saviours. I struggle to understand why the Government has not had more of an appetite for actively engaging small builders and organising for them to avail of finance to do work they would like to do, rather than the current strategy of creating appetisers for the developer who is really just an investor.

He will come in and out of the market as he pleases. That is fair enough. That is what he does. He cannot be criticised for that. However, if the Government is going to guarantee a steady supply of housing units in the next few years, I do not think this is the way to go about it.

The few planners that I have spoken to in the last couple of weeks think this is a bit of a power grab. They believe that it will actually bring uncertainty to how this business is conducted and that there is a bit of a jump into the unknown about it. The Minister pointed out at the housing committee that there was no statutory element involved in the pre-application stage at present. He is right and it was a good point to make. However, what I suggest to him is that we should have probably introduced one before we got rid of the planners at local authority level, rather than go down the road we are going down.

If there is a feeling at Government level that local authorities and planners that work in local authorities have not got the wherewithal actually to deliver the sort of numbers the Government would like, would it be crazy to suggest that we actually make them fit for purpose and strengthen them in order that they can do what we would like them to do? If we want to end the housing crisis that threatens to be with us for a few years still, I still believe that the way forward is the idea that the State would use its own land and money to invest not just in supplying social housing but also affordable housing, rather than enticing the investment funds and the developers to supply units at a price that is too high for too many people. While the Government may facilitate the access to money, what that involves is burdening people with a debt that very often does not make sense. That was one of the things that led to the sub-prime crisis in the first place back in 2007.

I support the amendments that have been tabled. We have had a very detailed discussion of this part of the legislation, which is probably the most significant part of it. Myself and a number of other Deputies tabled very detailed amendments at Committee Stage. It is not my intention to repeat the detail of all of those. I would just like to make some general comments, if I can. I thank the Minister but particularly the staff in the Department who made themselves available at quite a considerable length, both inside and outside the committee, to assist us in at least grappling with issues, irrespective of whether we ended up opposing them.

Sinn Féin's position at the start of this was that we accepted that there was a problem in large-scale planning applications. The average length of time of 81 weeks for the 15 planning applications of 100 units or more this year simply was not acceptable. We were in agreement with the Minister that there was a problem that had to be resolved. We said to the Minister throughout the debate that if he was able to provide us with evidence that this was the best way to address the problem, we would support him. I have to say, having spent a considerable amount of time going through the evidence that we have been provided with, I am finally of the view that this is not the best way to tackle the problem and that there are better ways to do so.

The reason I say that is because I believe the Minister has failed to identify the central cause of the problem of that 44 week delay in the application process. As most Deputies here will know, any planning application process has three phases. There is the pre-planning application, the formal application to the council and then the An Bord Pleanála appeal. It is clear from the data the Minister's Department gave us that the longest period of delay in the process is pre-planning. The reason for that is because there is no tight statutory framework within which that takes place. This Bill does provide for a different type of pre-planning but it would have been much better if a formal pre-planning process of a set number of weeks was provided for within the existing system.

When one looks at the planning process once a formal application has been made to the local authority and when one strips out those weeks that are the result of the applicant taking time to provide additional information, all of the excess time is accounted for. That is no wonder, either because some applicants put in poor quality applications or were slow to come back with information, but also because, under law, they have six months to do so. Therefore, if the Government reduced the amount of time applicants had to provide additional information and if it improved pre-planning in order that any big areas of concern for additional information were included, it could reduce that amount of time dramatically.

On the face of it, An Bord Pleanála appears to have the shortest element of time in the process. That is because An Bord Pleanála's job is fundamentally different from that of a local authority. It does not have to sit through all of the detail of the application but only deal with the narrowly defined aspects of the appeal. While I am not in any way criticising An Bord Pleanála, the Government could improve the timeline for An Bord Pleanála to deal with those appeals by providing them with extra staff. If it was a 25 week process that the Minister wanted instead of 81, which is the average, I believe he could have achieved that or something close to it without making the fundamental mistake of this section of the Bill, which I think he is making.

What is that fundamental mistake? The Minister is taking the primary responsibility for making the decision about a large planning application away from the planning officials in a local authority. That is what he is doing. While he is still allowing them to be consulted, that is a very different thing. That has two consequences. The first is that the Minister is now expecting a smaller group of officials in An Bord Pleanála who have a very specific set of expertise to assume the level of knowledge of the local environment, context, policies and development plans of ten to 15 local authorities. That is no criticism of An Bord Pleanála staff. How is that group of people meant to assume that detailed level of knowledge that they do not currently have? The second consequence is that the Minister is undermining the role of the county and city development plan in those decisions. As the Minister and his officials know, the statutory standing of the county of city development plan to a local authority planning process is of a different nature to a decision of An Bord Pleanála. Because of that, the democratically elected role of the members of the council in deciding that county development plan is also undermined. I believe those are fundamental changes to the planning process that are not good. In my view, they are not necessary because there are better ways of doing this and they therefore do not provide justification for this emergency measure.

I am also genuinely concerned about the lack of appeal. I am concerned both in terms of the quality of the planning decisions and the right of third parties, particularly communities, to have a say in that process, but I also think that the Government is going to end up in legal difficulties with this in terms of the State's obligations under the Aarhus Convention and subsequent EU directives. I hope that does not happen but I do think it is something that is going to take place. My concern in all of this is that, as a result of pushing through this measure to fix an existing problem that is, in a way, badly designed, we are going to end up with bad planning decisions, including in local authorities. Many members of local authorities who may support this measure because they want to support the increase of the supply of housing would be negatively affected by this. I am deeply concerned about another issue. I accept the Minister at his word that he only intends this measure to be in place for a short period of time. However, unfortunately, things that are put on the Statute Book as emergency measures too often end up on the Statute Book permanently. Therefore, this could become the norm and have all sorts of negative consequences afterwards.

While I absolutely accept the bona fides of what the Minister is trying to do to solve a problem that exists, I believe this is the wrong way of doing it. Notwithstanding the effort that the officials have made, I think this is bad legislation. On those grounds, Sinn Féin will be opposing this section of the Bill. There are other aspects of the Bill which we will come to later that I believe are actually quite good. However, we are being forced to oppose those positive elements because this primary section of the legislation is of such a negative weight that it outweighs the positives. Therefore, we will be voting against the legislation.

While we would all like to see the planning process sped up for large developments in order to increase supply, the method being chosen takes out the local democratic layer, though the councillors do not have a direct role, by going straight to An Bord Pleanála with these large developments.

A speeding up of the process could have been achieved in a different way that does not take out that layer. The Irish Planning Institute has also said this should not be done because it is a fundamental change. It means that the opportunities to appeal and for the local voices to be heard locally are simply not there. The points I make have been made before and on Second Stage debate. It was the substantive issue when the Bill was first published as we did not have all the amendments that were discussed earlier. It could have been achieved by putting in place better timelines at local level. Obviously there are timelines already but they could be more useful and one of the timelines could be an appropriate timeline for the pre-planning phase. Reorganising the structures at local level could also help to speed up the process where different sections, including the environment section, of the local authority are involved in advising on pre-planning. The sections need not have separate meetings for each section but have one meeting and all the relevant staff would be present. Some of the timelines that are proposed for the process at An Bord Pleanála level could have been put in at local level to shorten the period of time allocated for pre-planning. This is the phase that can cause most of the delay.

There is also a period in which additional information is sought from the applicant and this can take up to six months. Clearly this is one of the areas where a long time affects many applications. Members have been given a costing for the extra staff proposed for the unit in An Bord Pleanála. I believe that putting those staff in to the local authorities would be more effective and more transparent. People at local level could see their local planners and experts actually dealing with applications. If the staff is working behind the relatively closed doors of An Bord Pleanála then people do not have a sense that things are being done in a fair and transparent way. I would much prefer to see the resources put in to local authorities to deal with the issues that arise.

The Labour Party will not be supporting this section of the Bill and we do not agree with the process going directly to An Bord Pleanála for developments of 100 units or more.

Some areas will be more affected than other areas by this section of the Bill. I anticipate that my area will be one of those areas because the profile of large housing estates is typical of Kildare. Our population has quadrupled in the last four decades and that has been consistent growth, an experience we can draw upon with regard to what does and does not work. Between 2002 and 2006, and peaking in 2006 when some 88,000 housing units were built, we had the same planning system. The planning system did not cause or drive the construction of houses but neither did the planning system put a brake on it. If this tells us anything it is that the planning system functions even with a very large throughput of planning applications.

When I first read the Bill this section made me angrier and angrier. It is as if we have not learned from the past. The removal of the tier that involves the public in a much greater way in making submissions or objections to planning applications is of concern. When there are requests for further information, generated by the various sections of the local authorities or by notified parties, I have seen this process improve an application on many occasions. I have also witnessed where that part of the process identifies an element of the application that poses a really big problem in the future. We have had some planning permissions in north Kildare that were described as "Tully permissions" that were a ministerial sign-off. Essentially, if one looked at the applications when there was a problem one could be told it was a Tully permission. It showed that there was a lack of oversight. When a project was rushed and the application was not analysed to the extent it should have been, problems arose with difficulties such as footpaths not being provided or a lack of integration with local services. The people who have the local information are those within the local authority areas. I would be a critic of some elements of how local authorities function but the planning system has brought with it a degree of trust from the public. This trust would be lost by virtue of cutting people out of the process. I attended a public meeting recently, hastily called, because a local area plan was being put on display with a sizeable amount of rezoning. Councillors from the Minister's own party are not best pleased with these proposals because they understand they are being cut out of this planning process, and it will be the same for all groupings. They know that work done by councillors on development plans will be undermined because the plans could be circumvented and if land is not zoned the plans could be overridden. There is a difficulty, for example, that where one can currently have conditions around zoning or require a further master plan or process, this may not be needed by An Bord Pleanála. This could pose very significant problems.

I certainly do not want to see delays in the process but I am aware of situations where a developer will take until the last week of the six-month period to come back with the requested additional information. This area could benefit from a clarification or a curtailment at that level. The pre-planning period can also be very hit and miss and it could be more formalised.

Centralising the system in the way the Bill proposes is a major step as it takes out any kind of an appeal mechanism, other than a judicial review, which does not really look at the substance of the issue. Rather, the review looks at the process and if it was deficient. That is not an appeals process. The Aarhus Convention includes planning as one of the areas where people should have a right to be consulted on environmental issues that affect their lives. People - not just people who own land - in communities have a vested interest in the town or city in which they live. They are the people who would be most disadvantaged around their right to contribute to the planning process. This is a major difficulty with this Bill.

I wonder if the Minister has looked at the risks associated with these proposals.

Every Member in this House would want to see an acceleration in the number of houses being built because there is no doubt there is a need for additional housing. The issue is where we see the impediment in that regard because every time a difficulty arises, the members of the public appear to be the ones causing the impediment. That is unfair because I do not believe the evidence supports that.

The biggest problem with this section is the centralisation of power, the removal of the local layer, the sidelining of local councillors and reducing their impact on making development plans. That is the reason this section is offensive and we could not support it in that context. Also, other groups such as the Irish Planning Institute have drawn attention to it. When I spoke to senior people in my local authority about this proposal they said they were seeing an increased demand for discussions with people who want to submit planning applications but who were worried about this new process because they felt it was indeterminate. They also felt it was useful for them to be able to work with local authorities on the very issues with which they want to comply. Those are the kind of developers we want, not the ones who have to be dragged kicking and screaming to comply. We want those who will want to comply with the terms of the planning permission.

Another issue is that when a planning permission is appealed to the board, the board then takes on the conditions that have been written by the local authority where there had been local knowledge. The decisions are written with that in mind. However, the local authorities often find it very difficult to decipher the conditions that are written by An Bord Pleanála that have not had local authority input. The difficulty is that when one subsequently tries to make sure that what is happening on the ground complies with the permission, one runs into fairly serious problems if it is not understood by the local authority, which has to make sure that the property was built as permitted.

This measure will cause practical problems on the ground, which will be costly in terms of the oversight and monitoring of developments because the local authorities are not being included in the way they were previously where they had the power as opposed to the influence. That is the difference with this. There will be some influence with the board, and the Minister should remember that the board often overrules its own planning inspector, for example, so the process that is being talked about is very hit and miss. An Bord Pleanála is a planning appeals board. It is not the planning system, and it is very dangerous for the Minister to be doing what he is doing. This is the most offensive section in the Bill and for that reason we cannot support it or this section. If this section were to be excluded, there are other sections in the Bill that do have merit.

I will be brief. I second the series of concerns raised by previous speakers and will express some other concerns. I understand from the consultation process on the national planning framework and from hearing the Minister talk about it that we are looking to planning in a different way. Rather than the centralised, top-down national spatial plan we would perhaps go to our cities or regions and say, will you come back with your vision as to how you will develop and the key projects that need to be advanced in cities particularly, and I hope this would be with an objective of moving back into the centre of cities. As Deputy Wallace said yesterday, that is not easy. Getting that right is different from putting semi-detached houses on a greenfield site on the edge of town. It is a difficult and more complex issue to regenerate areas, bring life back into them, get higher density and at the same time get high quality development.

The real concern I have is that in this part of the Bill we are going in the opposite direction. We are weakening local government. We are saying it will not be the key planning decision maker but that it will go to a centralised An Bord Pleanála system. There is a fundamental contradiction in the broad policy approach between what I see happening in the national planning framework, as I understand it, and what we are doing in this legislation.

I am always impressed with the Dublin city architect, Ali Grehan. She has a very good sense of how, in getting good development, it is about getting the public realm right. If we look at the applications in terms of the building fabric or within the particular enclosure, and if we just go to An Bord Pleanála and not centrally involve the local authorities, how will we get that integrated planning right? It is about the local park, the local playground, making sure that local transport considerations are integrated and that water and waste services are integrated effectively. In terms of energy, it is about moving towards district heating and doing various systems to ensure this development of 100 more units has to connect in to the local community, environment and infrastructure that comes with building high quality density homes, particularly within city centres.

We all want to see the number of housing developments increase but I am concerned that we will end up with higher numbers and losing on quality. That is a valid concern. It is late. We all spoke about this on Second Stage so I will not repeat it because we will probably not change the Minister's mind on it but if he proceeds with this measure, we should review it. The Minister said earlier that it is open to review. We should review it and if there is a real concern that the quality is starting to suffer, that we are not getting high quality development but rather opting for more out of town centres because it is easier to get the planning done whereas it is too difficult to get the high quality, dense, city centre and suburban planning done, we should reverse engines on this very quickly because I am concerned that it is a step in the wrong direction for planning in our country.

I take the opportunity, on behalf of People Before Profit-Anti-Austerity Alliance, to thank the staff for their patience in the debate and their hard work in facilitating us throughout the entire Dáil term. I believe some discussions have taken place to try to ensure that we do not put them out more than is necessary in trying to get-----

Unfortunately, we will be coming back on Monday.

The Minister thinks that will happen at this stage.

In any event, we are committed to not dragging this out unnecessarily, although I believe the earlier debate was necessary because of the late arrival of an amendment on the critical issue of rent.

I will make some brief points on this grouping. First, it is very unfortunate that the issues to do with what the Minister described as streamlining the planning process to achieve what he and all of us want to achieve, namely, the ramping up of supply of housing, are being linked to other measures. We are having to vote on all of these measures together, which makes it difficult when there might be some aspects of the Bill that would be better than nothing in that there would be some sort of intervention to improve the situation in terms of rents and housing, and others which we fundamentally oppose, and we fundamentally oppose these measures. Even if we agreed with some of the other measures or at least thought they were better than nothing, we would still be forced to vote against the Bill because of the issues in this amendment and one or two of the other groupings. That is unfortunate. I have said it before but it is important to restate it.

Second, all the points have largely been made about why what the Minister calls streamlining is in fact a dangerous dilution of the imperative for proper planning and sustainable development.

Such proper planning and sustainable development is critical because there has been such a terrible record of bad planning, no planning at all in real terms and unsustainable development. This is largely as a result of the fact the policies of successive Governments have infected the attitude of planning authorities over many years to allow and facilitate development that was not well planned or sustainable and was driven by all the wrong motives, largely the motives of profit. In addressing this problem the Minister is diluting the protections we need to have against bad planning and unsustainable development. We will rue the day.

The Minister might say all of this is justified by the need to ramp up supply urgently to deal with the housing emergency we now face. I wish to make a point that I do not believe has been made in this regard, and I would be interested in hearing the Minister's response to it because to me it is the most definitive piece of evidence that what the Minister is doing is unnecessary in its own terms. If the existing planning process was the problem in terms of delivering large-scale supply, how does the Minister explain the fact that between 2005 and 2008 we delivered 70,000 to 90,000 residential units a year under the old planning system? We had unprecedented record levels of delivery of residential property under the old planning regime, which the Minister states needs to be streamlined. It was not an obstacle to unprecedented levels of supply, therefore it is not the obstacle. At best it seems to be a knee-jerk and frankly ideological take on what is the problem, which is that it is somehow bureaucracy, NIMBYism and politicking at local authority level, when self-evidently recent history tells us this was not the problem. It did not block development. Perhaps at times it should have. There is the irony. Some of the development that happened in that period should have been stopped. Was it stopped because of the process or was it stopped because of the attitude, policy and ideology of Governments of the day and the degree to which that infected and, in many ways, held hostage planning authorities? I think most obviously of issues such as the relationship that developed over development levies and planning applications which, frankly, on sustainable development grounds should not have been but were allowed because local authorities effectively were bribed by the offer of development levies on developments. Throwing out the baby with the bath water, in terms of proper local planning and the public being allowed to have a say on major housing developments to ensure proper planning and sustainable development, is wrong.

Following on from this, I do not see how An Bord Pleanála will resolve the problem. We just had a strategic planning decision in Dún Laoghaire relating to the harbour, but the principle is the same. It went straight to An Bord Pleanála and did not go through the local authority. The result was delayed for approximately nine months from when it was originally supposed to be decided by An Bord Pleanála. I do not know exactly why the delay occurred but it probably occurred because An Bord Pleanála does not have the resources.

I do not see how overriding proper planning and sustainable development via local authorities, local planners and all of the provisions for public consultation and sending something directly to An Bord Pleanála solves the problem. I do not believe it will solve the problem and I do not believe it is the problem. We must vote against this because it will damage the imperative for proper planning and sustainable development in a way that will not actually have an impact on the critical issue of supply. We have elaborated what we believe the problem is in this regard, which is the Minister's over-reliance on our friends the private developers.

Much of what I want to say has already been said, but I wish to reiterate a number of points. The Minister is stabbing local authorities in the back. Previous speakers have mentioned how much the role of local authorities has been diminished. The Minister seems to be further diminishing it and I am very disappointed to see this. Planners who worked through the previous ten or 15 years did so through the good times and the bad times and had to rejig county development plans. In the meantime, these county development plans have been sent to the Department and I am sure they will be ratified. The Minister is bringing in a third party to the process. When An Bord Pleanála ratifies a planning application it eventually returns to the local authority for implementation. The Minister is not providing enough flexibility. We must acknowledge that the pre-planning process is invaluable and has worked successfully in local authority areas on numerous occasions. The Minister should consider the amendment. The consultation process through the local authority, of which I am sure the Minister is aware from his own experience as a councillor, is more friendly and more hands on. With the transparency declarations we now have there should be no worry.

We will have issues with existing developments if local planners have add-ons while the planners from previous planning applications are hands-on. What happens in situations where a big development and a small development are on the same road? How will we have proper co-operation? It will create a quagmire. The planning authority would be able to address all of these issues on a more even keel and even-handed manner. I ask the Minister to reconsider. The local authorities should keep their responsibility. I served on a local authority.

I served on the same one.

It made good planning decisions and bad planning decisions. Through the years, previous Governments have addressed many issues, such as fair play, and these have been taken on board. I ask the Minister to give local authorities fair play in this development.

This provision proposes to deal with planning of an emergency nature where there is an infrastructural deficit or an urgent need to provide a particular service which otherwise would require emergency legislation. I am always in favour of retaining as much influence as possible at local level with local authorities to try to ensure local information is readily available and the decisions reached are well-founded. However, we need to realise we have what is tantamount to a housing emergency and this requires instant reaction. We may make some wrong decisions, some decisions may not be as good as they should be and some of the action taken may not be as good as it should be, but one thing is certain. Since I was last in the House I have spoken to two people who are homeless. They are concerned about where they will sleep tonight and over the weekend.

Their concern primarily is how, in the short to medium term, they can get to a situation where they can look forward to having a roof over their heads each night. We must do something about that. Of course, we must balance this by recognising good planning processes and procedures. I will do my best not to speak too long on this as I realise that the Minister is anxious. However, other Members have spoken at great length, so I will speak for a short time. The Ceann Comhairle is aware that we do this occasionally in our home county.

Be consistent, Deputy.

Absolutely. There is another issue that must be borne in mind, and I am sure some Members will empathise with this. Rural planning is almost a thing of the past. The possibility of getting planning permission in a rural area is almost-----

The Deputy is really straying from the amendment.

I know, but I wish to give a quick example in passing. It relates to housing planning and housing need. Every house that is provided lends itself to the housing stock, whether it is a private house in a rural area, a private house in an urban setting or a local authority house. Each contributes to the housing stock in their own way. In those circumstances I ask the Minister to bear in mind, and the local authorities certainly should bear it in mind as well as An Bord Pleanála, that there is a need to ensure everybody contributes and puts their shoulder to the wheel, their nose to the grindstone or whatever else they wish to do, in order that we are all singing from the same hymn sheet.

My last point is that it is important that an objector has a right to object. It is not a requirement. It is a right and we must guard it and ensure it is used whenever necessary. However, there are a number of habitual objectors who can object from a distance of 100 miles and sometimes more. I do not know what relevance the planned development has for them. I am sure it is something we have missed over the years. However, it causes really serious problems for the planning authorities and for the applicants who apply for planning permission in local areas where there is a local need. The objector from afar or the serial objector can create real problems in this regard.

Somebody referred to the old system. Yes, we did many things under the old system. However, some of those things were not great.

Tell us about it.

Some of the planning decisions made under the old system did not live up to close scrutiny. I will not go into the detail.

Do not thank God just yet, because I have not finished. It is very important to remember that we would not be happy with every decision that was made. We should always try to ensure the best planning process is followed and that the planning Acts and guidelines are used fairly and work for the benefit of the people within the law, nothing more and nothing less. I ask the Minister to keep that in mind.

I notice the Minister is getting restless. Ministers get restless from time to time, so this is not the first time in my time in this House. In summary, let us do this for the good of people, the urgency of whose need is obvious at present. Incidentally, I was in the House last night too.

I apologise if I am looking at Members and asking them to be concise and brief, but we had a long debate on this issue on Second Stage, Committee Stage and in the Seanad. What we are proposing to do, and it is a major part of the legislation, is to bring more certainty, a term that has been used a great deal today and last night, to the planning system. This is not bypassing local authorities. It is providing for a statutory period for a formal, preplanning process, which has never been in place previously, and for a 16 week statutory process for An Bord Pleanála to make a formal decision. The local authorities are involved in the nine week statutory process, under which there will be an onus on the developer to have a far more professional application. This only applies to large applications of more than 100 housing units or 200 student units, and it is only on zoned land. Currently, when an application goes to An Bord Pleanála, it is possible for the board to grant a planning permission on unzoned land, so this provision is more restrictive.

What is involved is a council and councillors deciding on zoning and on a local area plan in terms of how an area should look in the future when developed. When a developer or builder comes forward with a planning application, it must be consistent with that. They will go through an initial two weeks or so of informal consultation to ensure they are ready for the nine week statutory preplanning consultation. Councillors will be involved in that because they will have to be briefed by the planning department and management. There is no bypassing of councillors in terms of knowledge and briefing. At the end of the nine week period, the local planning authority will do a report recommending whether the application should be granted or rejected. It also has the power to recommend conditions attached to the planning. In addition, An Bord Pleanála will be involved with the local authority during that nine week statutory period. Therefore, there is local input. A person from An Bord Pleanála will be involved in that to ensure they understand the intricacies of the local area, the local area plans and other issues that should be taken into account. It is only at that point that the formal application goes to An Bord Pleanála for a 16 week consideration. We are anxious to have certainty at the end of the 16 weeks, because currently it sometimes takes longer than that.

This is a temporary intervention to try to get large-scale developments moving. They are starting to move again now, but in County Galway, for example, one of the biggest counties in the country, there has been one planning application for a housing estate in the past seven years. There has been none in Tipperary. County Cork, the largest county in the country, has only had a small number. What we are doing is trying to make it easier to put the finance together, which is complicated sometimes for these big developments. It is far easier to do that when one has certainty on when a decision will be received. There is no certainty about getting an approval. This is certainty about timelines. The system puts the developer under far more pressure to have a more professional application from the outset. The system of planning teams in local authorities having to knock planning applications into shape because they were put together poorly in the first place, and spending months doing that and going back and forth for information and so forth, is not the type of system that can deliver large-scale housing of the right quality in the right place, and quickly. That is what we desperately need, as is clear from the conversations we had earlier.

People, correctly, point to me and tell me it is my responsibility to get houses built throughout the country, to have housing estates built where they are needed, to ensure starter homes are built, to ensure the strategic development zones, SDZs, around Dublin see their full potential become reality and to have the 8,000 student accommodation units that are currently in the planning system built for students. That is what we are trying to do to respond to what many people have described as an emergency, although I have described it many times as a crisis. I am not seeking to bypass anything here. I certainly will not stand over a situation in which we get poor decisions. The current system for large-scale planning has made desperate mistakes in the past. Sometimes it was poor zoning decisions and sometimes it was poor planning decisions. I would not stand over that. However, the idea that we should just tinker around with the current system and that it will be fine, much safer and so forth is not necessarily true.

We are making a pretty fundamental change here but it is one that has been thought out. It is one that An Bord Pleanála has bought into and that the local authorities with which we have discussed and teased this out understand it will work and bring much more certainty to ensuring that we can get large housing estates moving in the right places on zoned land, of which there is a good deal across the country. I trust An Bord Pleanála to make the right decisions here with the local knowledge it will get from the nine-week pre-planning statutory consultation in which it will be involved with the local authorities and from the councillors' knowledge of the detail of what is being proposed. I accept that some people do not believe this is the right way to do it but I do not accept this is undermining the system or bypassing local authorities. It is not doing that. It is putting pressure on the system to deliver in a reasonable timescale and we will give them the resources to ensure that they do that. There is the idea that instead of providing more staff to An Bord Pleanála we should provide staff to all the local authorities, but An Bord Pleanála is asking for an extra ten people. That number would not be sufficient for even one local authority.

It is looking for €1 million.

It is asking for ten people plus increased resources. It might be 12 people, but that is the type of number involved in order for it to work with the local authorities. We have granted an extra 500 staff across the local authorities, predominantly for planning, engineering and quantity surveying services because we are gearing up local authorities, mainly around the social housing build programme but also in terms of streamlining planning processes and so on. I believe this will work. It is temporary and after three years, hopefully, we will not need it any more. By that point, we will have streamlined the conventional planning system which will be looking after the vast majority of planning applications because this is only for the large-scale planning applications. When I checked the number of applications coming through An Bord Pleanála around September, there were only 15 in the whole country for planning applications for over 100 units. I hope we will have at least 50 next year and that is what we are gearing up for in terms of An Bord Pleanála. I am confident that we will make sound good decisions that represent good sensible planning, consistent with local area plans, county development plans and city development plans and that we can stand over, but we will do it in a more streamlined manner so that the projects can move ahead quickly.

The Minister said that only a small number of applications are going through the system, and that is true, but I do not know how he can argue that the changes that are being brought in will make such a dramatic increase in the numbers. The numbers will probably increase anyway because it is probably becoming more attractive for the developers. There are 27,000 permissions granted for projects in Dublin on which no work has commenced. This process has nothing to do with that. Why is the Government not acting-----

-----to address the fact that there are 27,000 applications for projects on which work has not yet started?

That is why we are spending €200 million on an infrastructure fund to be announced-----

This process has nothing to do with that. I realise that some of these are short of infrastructure. I gave the figures for proposed projects in Dún Laoghaire yesterday. An incredible number of developers have sites ready to go and more than half of them are serviced but work on them has still not started. Will the Government act to address that? The Minister can say that he is not watering down how we do planning until the cows come home, and he is saying they can recommend this and that, but the truth is that he is reducing the decision-making powers of the planners involved. It would not stack up otherwise. The Minister said that this is a fast-tracking system. I agree that the process should be made more efficient but I do not agree with watering down the process, and regardless of how he phrases this, it amounts to some watering down of the planning process.

Do any other Deputies wish to comment? I call the Minister to respond.

I will brief in my response. This new system will have to prove itself but we know that the average length of time it took those 15 applications, to which I referred earlier, to go from initial consultation to decision was about 80 weeks and the new system can get through the process in about 26 weeks. I agree with Deputy Wallace that if we did not change anything, many more planning applications would be coming through the system but they would take a long time to get through it. We are trying to accelerate that to get movement faster to deal with the pressures in terms of housing supply.

This amendment is grouped with amendment No. 6 which proposes the substitution of the words, "A permission granted under this Part may not be extended". Can the Minister explain the logic of why if people are availing of this fast-track system they should have the luxury of sitting on an proposed project and be allowed to have the planning permission extended at a later point?

The Minister cannot respond now.

If one gets a planning decision through this new fast-track system one cannot get an extension; one has to move on with it.

Is the amendment being pressed?

Amendment put:
The Dáil divided: Tá, 41; Staon, 26; Níl, 49.

  • Barry, Mick.
  • Boyd Barrett, Richard.
  • Brady, John.
  • Broughan, Thomas P.
  • Collins, Joan.
  • Collins, Michael.
  • Connolly, Catherine.
  • Coppinger, Ruth.
  • Crowe, Seán.
  • Cullinane, David.
  • Daly, Clare.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Ellis, Dessie.
  • Funchion, Kathleen.
  • Healy, Seamus.
  • Howlin, Brendan.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • Kenny, Gino.
  • Kenny, Martin.
  • McDonald, Mary Lou.
  • Martin, Catherine.
  • Mitchell, Denise.
  • Munster, Imelda.
  • Murphy, Catherine.
  • Murphy, Paul.
  • Nolan, Carol.
  • Ó Broin, Eoin.
  • O'Brien, Jonathan.
  • O'Reilly, Louise.
  • O'Sullivan, Jan.
  • O'Sullivan, Maureen.
  • Penrose, Willie.
  • Pringle, Thomas.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
  • Ryan, Eamon.
  • Sherlock, Sean.
  • Shortall, Róisín.
  • Smith, Bríd.
  • Stanley, Brian.
  • Tóibín, Peadar.
  • Wallace, Mick.

Níl

  • Bailey, Maria.
  • Barrett, Seán.
  • Brophy, Colm.
  • Bruton, Richard.
  • Burke, Peter.
  • Byrne, Catherine.
  • Canney, Seán.
  • Cannon, Ciarán.
  • Carey, Joe.
  • Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
  • Coveney, Simon.
  • Creed, Michael.
  • D'Arcy, Michael.
  • Deering, Pat.
  • Doherty, Regina.
  • Donohoe, Paschal.
  • Doyle, Andrew.
  • Durkan, Bernard J.
  • English, Damien.
  • Farrell, Alan.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Fitzmaurice, Michael.
  • Fitzpatrick, Peter.
  • Flanagan, Charles.
  • Grealish, Noel.
  • Griffin, Brendan.
  • Harris, Simon.
  • Heydon, Martin.
  • Humphreys, Heather.
  • Kehoe, Paul.
  • Kenny, Enda.
  • Kyne, Seán.
  • McEntee, Helen.
  • McHugh, Joe.
  • McLoughlin, Tony.
  • Madigan, Josepha.
  • Mitchell O'Connor, Mary.
  • Murphy, Dara.
  • Murphy, Eoghan.
  • Naughton, Hildegarde.
  • Neville, Tom.
  • O'Connell, Kate.
  • O'Donovan, Patrick.
  • O'Dowd, Fergus.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Rock, Noel.
  • Stanton, David.
  • Varadkar, Leo.
  • Zappone, Katherine.

Staon

  • Aylward, Bobby.
  • Browne, James.
  • Butler, Mary.
  • Byrne, Thomas.
  • Cahill, Jackie.
  • Calleary, Dara.
  • Casey, Pat.
  • Cassells, Shane.
  • Chambers, Jack.
  • Cowen, Barry.
  • Curran, John.
  • Dooley, Timmy.
  • Fleming, Sean.
  • Haughey, Seán.
  • Kelleher, Billy.
  • Lahart, John.
  • Lawless, James.
  • MacSharry, Marc.
  • McConalogue, Charlie.
  • Moynihan, Aindrias.
  • Murphy O'Mahony, Margaret.
  • O'Callaghan, Jim.
  • O'Keeffe, Kevin.
  • O'Rourke, Frank.
  • Rabbitte, Anne.
  • Troy, Robert.
Tellers: Tá, Deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly; Níl, Deputies Regina Doherty and Tony McLoughlin.
Amendment declared lost.