Housing: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— Article 40.3.1° of the Constitution of Ireland states that the State guarantees in its laws to respect and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen;

— Article 40.3.2° of the Constitution of Ireland states that the State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen;

— Article 43.1.1° of the Constitution of Ireland states that the State acknowledges that man, in virtue of his rational being, has the natural right, antecedent to positive law, to the private ownership of external goods;

— Article 43.1.2° of the Constitution of Ireland states that the State accordingly guarantees to pass no law attempting to abolish the right of private ownership or the general right to transfer, bequeath, and inherit property;

— Article 43.2.1° of the Constitution of Ireland states that the State recognises, however, that the exercise of the rights mentioned in the foregoing provisions of this Article ought, in civil society, to be regulated by the principles of social justice; and

— Article 43.2.2° of the Constitution of Ireland states that the State, accordingly, may as occasion requires delimit by law the exercise of the said rights with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good;

further notes:

— the importance of the provisions that require protection of private property to be regulated by the principles of social justice and, accordingly, that the State may as occasion requires, such as the current housing and homelessness emergency, delimit by law the exercise of the said rights with a view to reconciling their exercise with the exigencies of the common good;

— the statement of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government in the Irish Examiner on 11th May, 2016, as follows: ‘I think we have a national emergency that needs a response that is comprehensive and so I have been working late hours trying to start the process of putting that response together’;

— the call for the declaration of a national housing emergency by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and the Peter McVerry Trust;

— the recent statement by the Jesuit Centre For Faith and Justice, as follows: ‘As we mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we need to recognise that housing deprivation is one of the most serious forms of poverty in the Ireland of today and that in recent years the housing system has become the locus of some of the deepest inequality evident in our society...the Jesuit Centre is calling for a new direction for housing policy in Ireland, one based on recognising that housing is a fundamental human right’; and

— that a legislative precedent for declaring a national emergency exists in the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts of 2009, 2013 and 2015;

affirms that during the current emergency in housing and homelessness, the State is entitled to delimit by law the exercise of private property rights; and

calls on the Government to bring forward legislation affirming that a national housing emergency exists and, while that housing emergency exists and in order to end that emergency as quickly as possible, the State is enabled to bring forward measures which, in the public interest, impinge on private property rights in matters relating to housing provision in accordance with Articles 43.2.1° and 43.2.2° of the Constitution of Ireland in the matter of the exercise of private property rights.”

I am sharing time with Deputy Catherine Murphy. I welcome the opportunity to move this Private Members' motion, which calls for the declaration of a housing emergency in order to: tackle the housing and homelessness crisis; stop banks, vulture funds and buy-to-let landlords from evicting families; stop repossessions; freeze, control and reduce rents; and entitle sitting tenants to continue their tenancies in sale situations, among other measures.

There is no doubt that this country is in the throes of a housing and homelessness emergency. The Peter McVerry Trust put it starkly when it said, "The crisis is behind us and we have moved into a full-blown emergency." That housing emergency is getting worse. There are now 3,048 children in emergency accommodation, up from 2,973 in July 2017. This is an increase of 29% since August 2016. The total homeless population is now well over 8,000 people. Over 90,000 families are on local authority housing waiting lists and in excess of another 20,000 families are on housing assistance payments, a scheme which is a disaster for families and a bonanza for landlords. Thousands more are homeless, couch-surfing or doubling or trebling up with relatives. Sadly, we have seen deaths on our streets.

This housing emergency cannot be fully ended until huge numbers of social and affordable houses are built by local authorities. That will take time but tens of thousands of people are enduring a nightmare now. Thousands of children are being damaged now, as we speak here this evening. Irish society is treating these citizens cruelly. The short-term measures being used by the Government are, at best, grossly inadequate. The situation is getting worse. While it continues, this is not a civilised society. That is why much more far-reaching measures are necessary merely to stabilise the situation, that is, to stop the housing and homelessness emergency from getting even worse. Stronger emergency measures are needed to eradicate homelessness and end the housing emergency.

This motion seeks to avail of the existing provisions of Bunreacht na hÉireann to declare a housing emergency and to delimit private property rights on a temporary basis until the housing emergency is ended. Article 43.2.1° of Bunreacht na hÉireann makes the exercise of private property rights subject "to be regulated by the principles of social justice". Article 43.2.2° goes even further, making the exercise of these rights subject to the exigencies of the common good. This motion does not attempt in any way to insert any new provision into or amend any existing provision of Bunreacht na Éireann. There is already an existing and current precedent in Irish law which can be utilised in accordance with these articles of Bunreacht na hÉireann in addressing the housing emergency. The precedent exists in the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts 2009, 2013 and 2015. Those Acts are currently on the books and in operation. The private property rights of pensioners were delimited under this legislation. The current leader of the Labour Party and former Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, confirmed that to me during the course of that legislation. Speaking to the Select Sub-committee on Public Expenditure and Reform on 10 November 2015 he said, and his words are worth quoting:

The bottom line is I agree with the thrust of what Deputy Healy said about pensions being a preserved property right. That has been determined by the courts. That is why we have taken very careful advices from the Attorney General, of which some have already been tested in the courts. The criteria required, as I have put on the record before, are that to sustain pension [reductions in a] contribution to [the emergency], [and the next line is very important] there needs to be an emergency which needs to be certified. The contribution must be one towards addressing that emergency. It needs to be proportionate in terms of the person's income and it needs to be non-discriminatory. In other words, one cannot say that a category of people should be deprived of a pension and that another category should not. It has to have general application.

I believe the criteria set out by Deputy Howlin are met by the motion I am proposing. It is quite clear that during the current emergency in housing and homelessness, the State is entitled to delimit by law the exercise of private property rights in accordance with "the principles of social justice" and "the exigencies of the common good". Furthermore, it is also quite clear that the country is in the throes of a housing and homelessness emergency. As far back as May 2016, the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, confirmed his belief that a housing emergency existed. He said, "I think we have a national emergency that needs a response that is comprehensive." Of course, the position has gotten much worse since then.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, the largest civil society organisation in the country, also believes there is a housing emergency and has called for the declaration of such in its ten-point housing programme entitled "How We Can Solve the Housing Crisis". Point 1 of that programme states that, "to facilitate a rapid, coherent response, Government should declare a national housing and homelessness emergency and move to put in place a properly resourced, local authority-led emergency social housing programme." That call was also supported by Patricia King, general secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and by Karan O'Loughlin, campaigning officer of SIPTU. The Peter McVerry Trust also acknowledged such an emergency and called for emergency measures, stating that the emergency powers needed to deliver actions that will immediately reduce the numbers of homeless individuals, couples and families must now be introduced.

It is clear that a housing emergency exists in this State. All the advocacy groups and all those involved in supporting the homeless and housing organisations believe so. They believe it has become much more difficult and that the situation has got worse over the last years. It is also clear that emergency measures are needed to address the situation and that it is possible to legally declare a housing emergency in accordance with the precedent in law which I outlined earlier. It is further clear that private property rights can be delimited in accordance with Articles 43.2.1° and 43.2.2° of Bunreacht na hÉireann.

I ask for the support of all Deputies in the House in respect of this motion, especially backbenchers of all parties, who know the situation at first hand.

These Deputies are dealing with this situation at the coalface in their clinics on a daily and weekly basis and they know that the situation is getting worse and that what I am proposing is the only legal, commonsense and effective way forward in terms of solving the homeless and housing emergency that exists in this State.

It is fair to say that this country, and the Government, are capable of dealing with a crisis, as demonstrated during the recent storm. Through political will, and using various arms of the State, it was well managed. I refuse to believe that another crisis cannot be dealt with, and dealt with adequately. Hardly a week goes by that the issue of the housing and homelessness crisis is not discussed in this House. It is the response to that crisis that is at issue.

A test of any fair society is its capacity to house its people. We are here again this evening discussing this issue because despite all of the fancy words and so-called action plans, the main action is further entrenchment into the mindset of abdicating responsibility for housing to the private sector. In its current form, our housing sector has lost the concept of a home. It is fundamentally destabilising to society when we hear Government solutions to the crisis that are reliant on the private sector, such as the development of hubs. The Minister has sought to convince us that hubs are somehow desirable. We need to talk about homes, not hubs. If people cannot secure a home and put down roots, communities become transient and unstable. Society in general suffers. What sense of security do children growing up in emergency accommodation or hubs have? How can we blame them if they grow into dysfunctional youths? We are storing up very serious problems for the future.

The State has all but abdicated its duty to provide social housing in the numbers required, opting instead for its preferred outsourcing model and increasing reliance on the free market. We need a return to what it means to provide a home, not just property. Housing costs are soaring. Many working people have no choice but to seek higher wages to buy or rent a home. Disastrous policy decisions on housing have devastating knock-on effects in society for years and, perhaps, generations. Across our cities and towns tonight there are increasing numbers of people on the streets. It is embarrassing to walk down any of the main streets in this city and take stock of what one sees. Families are sleeping on the couches of friends and relatives, very often unsure of where they will be in a week or a month's time.

People are paying high proportions of their income on rent or mortgages and they are absolutely terrified of losing their homes. To purchase a modest home in Cork or Galway a person needs to be earning approximately six times the average wage. To buy a home in Dublin, one needs approximately nine times the average wage. As we know, average rents have spiralled over the past four years. It is clear that there is no security for people renting and that buying a home is increasingly becoming a pipe-dream for many, which is not acceptable. The concept of a home is a basic human right but it has been wilfully replaced by the property ladder or is seen as an investment opportunity. This problem dates back a couple of decades.

The current housing and homelessness crisis not only scars the social fabric of our country, it undermines our competitiveness and labour mobility. The Government has many shiny plans but progress is painfully slow. It is a case of implementation deficit. The delivery aspect of these plans, along with political will in terms of the public aspect of housing, is at issue. The Government must take immediate action to ensure long-term rent certainty. We have previously called for the use of the consumer price index in this regard but it is now too high to make that argument. We need to drive down the cost of housing and to bring homes within the reach of people on ordinary incomes. We need a strong building sector, for which we must reduce costs, including finance costs. This also requires doing things to scale such that building is more efficient and less expensive.

The Government must challenge the EU fiscal rules which limit its capacity to invest in housing and other capital projects. The rules are hamstringing and exacerbating the crisis. This must be viewed from the perspective of spending to save. Reducing the price of housing and building to scale makes it easier to service debts into the future. We also need special measures to help young couples who bought apartments during the boom and now find themselves stuck with children in unsuitable accommodation. I know of people who are living with children in a two-bedroom apartment on the second or third floor of an apartment block. People, including many young couples, who bought small apartments during the boom are still in negative equity. Some of them have become accidental landlords because they have moved out and are renting out their apartments and now find themselves having to deal with Revenue. Others, as I said, are living with children in unsuitably small one or two-bedroom apartments, which they did not buy with that intention in mind.

These home owners have been forgotten by Government. There was nothing in budget 2018 to assist them. Many are finding it difficult to service their existing mortgages or to keep up rent payments while at the same time trying to save the 20% deposit. They find themselves stuck, unable to buy family homes because they cannot compete in the over-heated housing market or against cash buyers. As an immediate response, we are calling for the Central Bank to carry out an impact assessment of the 20% deposit rule to see if it can be relaxed to enable this cohort of people to buy suitable family homes. This would free up the smaller type of accommodation that I understand is not the most attractive to build and it would allow people to move on when they need to do so. This cohort of people has not been considered. Any affordable housing model must factor in this group of people. This is a real problem, perhaps not for millions of people, but for a sizeable number of people.

The current constitutional framework is a profound obstacle to dealing with many of the problems in housing. Article 43 seeks to balance private property rights with the common good. Too often, the interpretation of that article means that the common good loses out. We either challenge this or we change it because it is not fulfilling what is provided for in the Constitution. The common good is supposed to be a central aspect of the right to private property. I have no problem with people having a desire and being enabled to buy property or a home but this provision is being used in a very negative way. This is not only happening regarding housing. When the rent caps were being introduced there was a degree of questioning as to whether or not it was constitutional. The same happened in regard to upward-only rent reviews. There are things that need to be challenged in this regard. We are in the midst of a devastating housing crisis. If the Constitution is an impediment, we need to either challenge it or change it.

Deputy Healy is right that there is not a Deputy in this House that does not have a degree of understanding of this crisis. Since I opened my constituency office this issue has been the number one issue raised with me by people. We all have a good understanding of the problem. It is the solution and the political will to deliver that solution that has been largely absent.

There has been an ideological problem in respect of the kinds of problems we are seeing coming forward. If the Government were to challenge the fiscal rules in this regard, it would likely be successful. It is certainly an impediment to the country developing. Increasingly, Members are hearing that those in the building and industrial sectors consider housing an impediment to recruiting staff and growing the workforce. There are many reasons this problem needs to be tacked but the mindset needs to change first. We must see housing as more than a person trying to get on the property ladder. The basic right to a home has to be at the heart of any housing policy.

I move amendment No. 3:

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

“notes that:

— the Government has responded to the current housing crisis with a comprehensive range of actions, policy initiatives and increased investments, as outlined in the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, the Strategy for the Rental Sector and other relevant policies and actions, with the aim of increasing and accelerating supply across all housing tenures, and providing increased targeted supports for households in need, especially those in emergency accommodation or at risk of becoming homeless;

— while it recognises the rights conferred by the Constitution of Ireland on private property, the Government has already taken steps to balance these rights with targeted interventions and proportionate measures that impact on these rights in the interests of the common good;

— a range of such policy interventions are already in force, including:

— provisions under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts to cede a percentage, currently ten per cent, of residentially zoned and permitted land for social housing provision;

— compulsory purchase powers that enable public bodies to acquire lands or properties for housing purposes;

— the introduction of a Vacant Site Levy as a charge on vacant or underutilised housing lands in urban areas to incentivise their development or redevelopment and the announcement in Budget 2018 that the Levy will be more than doubled to seven per cent per annum from 2019;

— the designation of Rent Pressure Zones where time-bound limits are applied to rent increases in the private rental sector, justified on the basis of providing greater rent predictability and certainty to both tenants and landlords in an imbalanced and dysfunctional rental market; and

— restrictions on the termination of tenancies in multi-unit developments where the property owner/landlord is seeking to sell (known as the ‘Tyrrelstown Amendment’);

— the Government continues to monitor and assess the need for further targeted and proportionate measures, in consultation with the Attorney General, that may impact on property rights but which are merited in the interests of restoring balance to the housing market and meeting the overall housing needs of our population; and

— the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution has already been referred to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, for consideration of issues regarding social, economic and cultural rights from a Constitutional point of view, and this provides an opportunity for further consideration of housing rights issues, and an opportunity will be provided for Dáil Éireann to debate the Committee’s report in due course.”

I thank Deputy Healy for tabling the motion. I do not doubt his sincerity, frustration or compassion for the citizens who most need our help. The Government is opposing the motion and has put forward an amendment to explain why that is so. In opposing the motion, the Government does not disagree that we are dealing with a serious crisis or an emergency, if one wants to call it that. However, it should be recognised that we have been dealing with the challenge for some time and progress is being made. That is why almost 18 months ago the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government was reconstituted as the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and a senior Minister was given responsibility for housing. That was not a simple rebrand. Most of the former Department's functions in regard to the environment were reallocated to the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. As Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government with additional responsibility for Irish Water and emergency planning such as in the case of Storm Ophelia, much of my work is dedicated solely to housing and homelessness. That is why much of the State's capital spend since 2016 and up to 2021 will go into housing and homelessness, involving a commitment of more than €6 billion over the period of Rebuilding Ireland, which is well under way and is working. Members will compare our current capital spend on housing with that which pertained in 2008. I remind those Members that was before an economic recession caused by an unsustainable level of public investment, over-reliance on property-related cyclical taxes and an economy over-concentrated on building development. It beggars belief that some Members still do not understand the massive failure by the then Government.

I have said before that I am not opposed to declaring that there is a housing emergency but only if such declaration would be more than tokenistic and could lead to powers we do not already have that would fix our housing and homelessness problem. I began discussion of that issue with the Attorney General almost immediately upon taking office. The motion seeks to declare an emergency and in so doing suspend or delimit certain parts of the Constitution that deal with individual property rights. We cannot just suspend certain elements of the Constitution by decree or through legislation. If it was decided that could be done, it would set an incredibly dangerous precedent. While it might be done for just reasons today, someone could come along and do it for unjust reasons tomorrow. Our duty of care is not just to the current circumstances and generation but to those who will follow. Even if the Deputy feels that his motion would meet the Howlin test, if one wants to call it that, Members must ask if it is necessary. What would we do differently? How are individual property rights currently getting in the way of the public interest in terms of building more homes or tackling the homelessness crisis? They are not. A balance can be found between the individual good and the public good. We can do, and are doing, that within the parameters of the Constitution.

The Government has several powers and has improved upon them in some instances. There is a role for compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, which are used in housing not just to acquire strategic land but also to tackle vacancy. Some local authorities have been more ambitious than others in that regard. That is why at the housing summit in September there was an exploration of CPO powers and local authorities were tasked with using their powers in a more streamlined, co-ordinated and practical way. The designation of rent pressure zones where limits are applied to rent increases in the private rental sector is another example of the public interest overriding the private. Bringing in definitions for "substantial refurbishment" under the rent zones extends those principles. Restrictions on the termination of tenancies in multi-unit developments where the property owner or landlord is seeking to sell, known as the Tyrrelstown amendment, again promote the public interest over the private interest. The introduction of a vacant site levy or the charge on vacant or under-utilised housing lands to incentivise their development also favours the public interest over the private, and the announcement in budget 2018 that the level will more than double to 7% per year from 2019 further strengthens that measure. Provisions under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts to ensure a percentage, which is currently 10%, of residentially-zoned land is used for social housing also seek to provide for the public good over private or individual right to property. We can promote the public interest over individual property rights within the Constitution and are doing so. The chief executive of Dublin City Council recently said that he feared property interests are holding the city to ransom in terms of its potential for future development and blocking higher densities that would promote a better and more integrated increase in the capacity of the city for its residents. I agree with that. We will seek further changes to promote the more sustainable development of cities, and urban centres in particular. To seek further change to the Constitution or legislative amendment that I do not believe necessary and which may not be possible, acceptable to the public or even in the public interest would take our attention and resources away from getting the actual work done, and good work is being done.

Four times more social housing homes will be built directly by the State this year than in 2015. There is no lack of political will on this issue. That responsibility was previously outsourced but the Government is taking it back. One does not get there by doing nothing or without a plan. One amendment to the motion states that fewer than 600 new social homes will be constructed in 2017 but that is simply wrong. When the Government established a Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, appointed a dedicated senior Minister to it and the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, put in place the Rebuilding Ireland plan we started to make progress in dealing with the housing shortage and developing solutions for the homeless. Rebuilding Ireland is working. Planning permissions and commencement notices are up almost 50% since the plan came into force. As I said, this year the Government will directly build four times more social housing homes through local authorities and housing bodies than it did in 2015. It will provide social housing supports to 80 new tenancies every working day of the week this year and that will increase to 98 next year. Rent inflation is on course to be half what it was in 2016 in areas where the pressure caps are in place. The number of homeless families in hotels fell for the first time in many months in Dublin in August and we are determined for that trend to continue. That did not happen by accident but as a result of Government policy that was criticised and opposed by others in the House. It happened in conjunction with local authorities, approved housing bodies, various stakeholders and experts in the industry, the Housing Agency, the Housing Finance Agency, the Residential Tenancies Board and the voluntary sector and many fine NGOs that are working with the Government and on behalf of citizens. A huge amount of work is being done. The resources of the State and our people are being brought to bear to face this challenge and to overcome it.

That does not mean that we cannot and should not do more. We are doing more. The number of children in emergency accommodation demands that we do so. One does not set the wheels of any important work in motion and get out of the car as that is not how one ensures things get done. That is why I decided we need to constantly monitor and review the housing and homelessness crisis. We do not aim to make wholesale changes to the plan because people need certainty but, rather, to identify where changes could improve or expedite elements of it. Rebuilding Ireland does not need to be restarted but it needs to be steered in the right direction and certain things need to be speeded up. By 2021, which will mark the end of Rebuilding Ireland, 50,000 new homes will have been provided under it. In its closing years, more homes will be provided through direct build than the housing assistance payment, which will put us in a very strong position to continue in that direction in 2021 and to rebalance housing provision away from the private sector and toward a stronger responsibility for the Government to provide social housing for the citizens who need our help the most.

As I keep Rebuilding Ireland under review and make improvements or changes to policy, I will announce them. That is what Members should concern themselves with rather than what they read in newspapers or what might be happening according to unnamed sources. They should pay attention to what the Government announces. If certain parties did so they would not have missed that I announced the social housing figures for 2018 at the housing summit in September rather than wait for the budget. I was quite happy that the main criticism of the housing budget from some on the left was that the Government announced its new targets for 2018 four weeks early. Some 30% more homes will be built directly by the State than was originally planned by Rebuilding Ireland but some Members tried to claim the targets did not change. The number of new builds next year will be almost double those this year but some Members have tried to claim that no new social housing homes will be built next year. Almost 8,000 new social housing homes will be added to the stock in 2018 when one includes long-term leases. Some say it should be 10,000 and I do not disagree. We will get there but, unfortunately, that will not be next year.

Some Members say I should not make announcements but, rather, should just get on with the work. There is a problem with that. If the repair and lease scheme needs to be amended, I have to announce that and cannot keep it to myself. If there is to be an affordability scheme, as there is, I must announce that people will be able to access it. I will keep doing the work but when I make changes to policy I will announce them because that is important for transparency.

It was important that we announced the new An Bord Pleanála fast-track process for large-scale developments when it was signed into force. It was important to announce that we were bringing forward new legislation to allow for a second extension of planning permissions where people were already building homes. We brought in this extension before the summer recess. It was important to announce the fire and life safety inspections of all social housing tenancies. This was extended to the private rental sector. It was important to announce the measures that came out of the housing summit, for example, the exit co-ordinators put in place, the additional money for hubs, the new inter-agency group to co-ordinate homelessness supports, the 30% increase in direct build for our targets for next year and the setting up of a national director of Housing First and more Housing First homes. It was also important to announce that we will have a change management programme for the Residential Tenancies Board to make it a strong regulator for the sector and that we will have new apartment guidelines for the build-to-rent sector. It was important to announce the new targets under Rebuilding Ireland out to 2021, the additional €75 million for affordable homes and affordable schemes, the increase in the vacant sites levy and the new finance vehicle for builders. All these announcements are not just empty statements. They are actions that people in this House called for. This is exactly the approach I said I would take - no more plans or roadmaps because we have them and they are guiding us successfully, but yes, new actions. I hope the House does not have a problem with me taking action and I hope Members do not think I should keep these actions to myself.

I know it is very difficult now for many people, not just the rough sleepers or the families in emergency accommodation. People throughout the country are feeling squeezed because of the cost of their rent or the difficulty they have saving for a mortgage, and this at a time when most economic indicators tell us that it should not be so difficult. The human indicators tell a different story. We will continue to act in the public interest, as this motion calls on us to do, and as the Government amendment reaffirms.

I am sharing time with my colleagues. I compliment Deputy Healy for having tabled the motion. Like all of us, he is obviously frustrated with the lack of progress we have seen in this area in recent years, despite the best intentions of many. I note in his motion the various references to the Constitution and to articles concerning the right to housing. The House agreed some weeks ago that the issue of enshrining a right to housing in the Constitution would be transferred to the Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach for consideration among other rights-based initiatives. We ask the Government to move as quickly as possible in order that this would be properly analysed and scrutinised with a view to being in a position to have a commonality through the Constitution whereby one reference does not surpass another. There are potentially different descriptions associated with housing about which there needs to be a commonality. I note also that the Deputy refers in the motion to the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation enacted in 2009, 2013 and 2015 and the potential such emergency legislation has to give effect to emergency housing provision. That potential is there. However, this is not necessarily backed up in the motion with specific ways and means by which it might be addressed. To this end, I accept that it is something we must keep under review, perhaps with a view to going down that road at a future date in the event that the various actions that have been promised are not adhered to.

In our amendment to the motion we note, as we have done on many occasions during various discussions in the House on this area and on various Bills that were introduced, that this crisis has not been dealt with in the manner in which many had hoped it would be dealt with. We have passed several motions, as I said, and various legislation pertaining to the housing crisis over recent years. The Government has had four housing Ministers, four policies and numerous launches of plans since 2014, yet the State has built fewer than 3,500 homes since 2011. That is less than the number constructed every year on average between the years 1994 and 2010. Fewer than 600 social homes have been constructed this year, while the Rebuilding Ireland target is 5,000. Only 24% of the 10,000 units in the construction pipeline are on site, so it will be 2021 before most are built, compared with the already unambitious target of 26,000 units. While the improvement in the capital allocation is welcome, the capital house building budget of €730 million in 2017 and €1.14 billion in 2018 is still 24% below 2008 levels. Due to years of undersupply and pent-up demand, we now need 40,000 to 50,000 new homes per year to make a dent in the demand and a noticeable impact on affordability.

Clearly, housing is witnessing a market failure. New interventions, as we have said, are required to stimulate supply. We believe the Government's reluctance to accept the challenge and its refusal to make any such interventions in the housing market are making a crisis worse. The programme for Government commitment to initiate an affordable housing scheme and the failure of the Government to date to reintroduce affordable housing initiatives for low and middle-income households needs to be restated again in the context of this debate in order for the record to show that no progress has been made in this area to date at least.

We go on in our amendment to call on the Government to acknowledge publicly the pressing need for delivery over spin in addressing the housing crisis. We call on the Government to commit to meeting Rebuilding Ireland's targets on moving homeless families out of hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation by the end of this year, to revise the emergency homelessness strategy and, in particular, to redesign the housing assistance payment, HAP, and homeless HAP schemes in order that households are not discouraged from taking up a tenancy and are not removed from the main social housing waiting list, which, unfortunately, is the case at present and worries many who are faced with that prospect and that dilemma. We also call on the Government to continue to increase and rebalance the housing budget towards capital expenditure on foot of the discrepancies I mentioned in respect of the increase that is there but which is still behind many of the targets that we would hope to meet. We call on the Government to devise a strategy to enable and encourage far greater scale and size in house building programmes, including social house building projects, and recognise, as I said, the significant market failures, including in planning, finance and infrastructure, and the cost of construction, which the market requires State intervention to overcome. We call on the Government to commit to the reintroduction of affordable housing schemes, including affordable owner-occupier and rental schemes for middle-income households. We call on it to explore the possible financial incentives aimed at encouraging development of housing at more affordable price points. We call on Government to introduce financial incentives to build high-density developments where they are currently not commercially viable to build - in Dublin city and many local authorities in other areas - because of this. Commitments have been talked about but they have not been followed up with action, and I hope to see progress in this regard.

We call on the Government to commit to greater enforcement in implementation of the rent pressure zones and other rent regulations, including more staffing and resources for the Residential Tenancies Board. Again, there is provision within the budget announcement for further funding. Will the Government confirm that this will be in place in the short term and that we will see increased staffing and resources in order that the cases are dealt with more appropriately and more expediently? We call on the Government to tackle land hoarding by large investors, which is clearly holding back supply, make changes to capital gains tax and introduce a new site tax to encourage the use of empty sites. Again, we need legislation to give effect to what we are told is forthcoming. We call on the Government to devise new strategies to manage vacant properties, including an active occupancy register. We had the support of the House in respect of proposals and a Bill we brought forward in this area. We ask that this be brought to Committee Stage for proper legislative scrutiny to allow all parties and the Government to devise a mechanism by which that can be forthcoming and to address the short-term measures regarding the provision of units. We must not only revitalise and re-energise many towns and villages throughout the country in their efforts to address this, but also help to promote towns and villages and bring vibrancy back to them. I will defer to my colleagues.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for being here to listen to the debate. I am sorry the Minister had to leave. Nevertheless, I am glad the Minister of State is here to respond to the debate. I think this is our third or fourth opportunity to address this matter and I am grateful to Deputy Healy for giving us another opportunity to put more points about this housing emergency to the Government. While supporting and seconding the Fianna Fáil amendment, I see where Deputy Healy is coming from and support the spirit in which he has tabled the motion.

I had outlined previously that the process is flawed. Before the Minister of State or his colleagues went into the Department, they were strangled. It takes between three and six years from idea to turning the key on a local authority house whereas, in the private sector, it is 18 months to two years. The Government needs to tear up what is referred to as the streamlined process, given the duplication that goes on between planners, architects and engineers in a council, in the Department and in the building unit in Ballina, which is ridiculous in the extreme. There will be many more people homeless unless the Government does this and gets on with it.

With regard to building, we cannot continue to deal with window dressing in the House while pontificating about what could, should or might be done. We need to get out and do it. That means the State undertaking a wholesale building programme similar to the 1950s, not depending on the private sector alone to do it or on some hare-brained, complex scheme to deliver it. We need to get out there and begin to do it ourselves, but not with the current process that takes between three and six years, as the evidence will show.

The public sector cannot do it on its own. We need not just the big-name guys who managed to refinance throughout the world and who were the big names in NAMA in the past. We need the small guy who used to build five houses in Collooney, ten houses in Ballyshannon, 30 houses in Sligo town and so on throughout every county in the country. They cannot do that because the same banks we are trying to have punished today for the disgrace and scandal that is the tracker crisis are only lending in primary areas and they will not lend in what they describe as tertiary areas. While they will not tell us that on the record, in effect, that is happening everywhere outside Dublin, although to a small extent they will lend in places like Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford.

Equally, many of the builders with the expertise of the past, those small, hard working guys who gave good employment - the five-unit, ten-unit and 20-unit builders - are subservient not to NAMA, which has washed its hands of them as if the problem no longer exists, but to some vulture fund. This means they cannot get up and running. They cannot get finance from the banks, as I said, because the banks will only lend in areas that are non-tertiary, which is a major problem. What is required, and it has been mooted by the Government, Fianna Fáil and various speakers in the House, is some sort of housing finance bank along the lines of ACC or ICC, which served a tremendous role in the past in getting industry and agricultural enterprise up and running through difficult times. It worked then and it is needed again now.

The level of taxation on houses is an issue. None of us like to see taxes cut against builders who we like to think are all extremely wealthy. However, that is not the case for the small man, who we need to kick this thing on. Here in Dublin, for example, between one third and a half of the price of an average three-bed, semi-detached house is going to the State between VAT, levies and other types of taxation. We need to look at that. We need to be radical and consider pushing that VAT down to get the bloody thing moving again, to try to get houses built. It is not to feather builders' nests with profits, and while that is an issue that may have to be revisited once we get things moving again, for now, it must be done.

I touched on the availability of finance. In addition, we need measures such as a potential stay on development plans throughout the country. When it comes to housing projects, it may be better to send those directly to An Bord Pleanála, although that should not be done with its current resources. If we are going to do that and have it streamline a process and get the turnaround time improved, An Bord Pleanála needs more staff. Applications could then be looked at very quickly and turned around.

The reality is this housing crisis is having a chilling effect on foreign direct investment coming to Ireland, for example, in the cases of the European Investment Bank and the European Medicines Agency, which we were pitching for. Even if the 5,000 or 6,000 people decided they did want to come to Ireland, where would they live? We have a housing crisis, a homeless crisis and thousands of people in hotels.

There is also the issue of boarded-up units. In the last debate I had the opportunity to put on record that 933 units in Dublin alone have been boarded up for more than ten years. How many have been boarded up for less than that? Relatively speaking, that is replicated in every county in the country. The theory of wanting a fully integrated society with a good mix of social housing along with private housing is honourable and we should aspire to it. However, for years we have been refusing to buy up units at cheaper prices in what were former local authority schemes throughout the country. That is madness. We are paying €300,000, €400,000, €500,000 and €600,000 for local authority housing in private units while overlooking places such as Sligo town, where five houses could be bought for €100,000 in a former local authority scheme. We are not being as radical as we need to be to match the radical reality of an emergency in housing.

These are just some tangible suggestions. It would be very radical, for example, to push down VAT or put a stay on development plans in order to bring forward appropriate measures. However, these are the kinds of things we need to be prepared to look at, rather than coming in here every month, whenever Members are prepared to use their Private Members' time to deal with these issues. We must take tangible action.

Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin. There is no place like home. It is the ambition of many people across the country but more and more are struggling as the housing crisis is deepening. There needs to be action on housing - action for the benefit of people who want to build their own homes, action for people who are renting, action for people who want social housing, action for people want to buy or who have bought and are clinging on to their home, and, of course, action for the homeless.

As we know, houses are not going to be built overnight and very few are being built at present. The Minister needs to quickly get existing vacant properties into use, such as the living-over-the-shop vacant units in rural areas, villages and towns centres, in order to reinvigorate our town centres. Of course, the recent budget tax relief is helpful and, hopefully, there will be more take-up than for the Government's last renovate and rent scheme, where only a handful of people were approved.

The Government needs to support people who want to build their own homes in their own community. Commitments have already been made for infrastructure such as sewerage schemes in villages like Coachford, Ballingeary, Ballyvourney and many others across the country. Without these schemes, locals cannot build their own homes. The Government needs to service these schemes to release locals and let them get on with building their own homes and freeing up rental units. There are already existing finished houses in many villages, such as Coachford, that cannot be occupied until the sewerage is built to serve the area.

Rent pressure zones need to be reviewed and enforced. When they were introduced, we pointed out that electoral areas were too big and too blunt a way of doing this. It means that at Classes Lakes in Ovens, an estate of over 400 homes, half of the homes are in the Ballincollig rent pressure zone while the other 200 homes are outside. Common sense needs to prevail. There should be flexibility and the entire estate should be within the rent pressure zone. The Government also needs to ensure that the rent pressure zones are being enforced. The standard of rental properties must also be addressed and Fianna Fáil is bringing forward a vacant housing Bill to address the matter.

Very few social houses are being built at present, fewer than 800 of the target of 5,000 this year. There needs to be an increase both in the funding and in terms of rebalancing the housing budget, pushing more money towards capital and letting the councils get on with building more houses. The Government also needs to put in place a mechanism to allow voluntary housing agencies and credit unions build homes and get people off the housing list.

As housing prices increase, the pressure from banks and vulture funds is being heaped onto people who are in arrears, pushing them towards homelessness. There are already too many people in that situation, with over 3,000 children homeless. Abandoning targets to house people in hotels and continuously failing to put a dent in rising homeless numbers cannot be continuously ignored.

As my colleagues have previously pointed out, it is time to ensure that practical steps are taken to resolve this housing emergency. Bringing in legislation as an answer to a problem is futile when the issues pertaining to the problem have not been adequately teased out or, in many cases, not even addressed. Once a structured plan is in place, additional powers may then be discussed, where practical.

With four Ministers in the past four years, there is little surprise that progress has not been made. One Minister seemingly looked for the position but - excuse the pun - he ran in the front door and ran out the back door as quickly as he could. This is not an emergency that crept in today or yesterday. We need to focus on getting results and forget about spin and rhetoric, both of which the Government is very good at. Clearly, the provision of 800 social houses falls well short of the action plan target which projects 5,000. The capital house building project is still 51% below 2008 levels.

Granted, it is to be increased to €1.4 billion in 2018, but how can inroads be made when the budget remains well below what is required?

A lady in her 80s presented at my constituency office just last week. She had nowhere to go and was homeless. At short notice the only facility available to her was a local nursing home. Obviously, this accommodation is temporary, but it is still not acceptable. It is not acceptable to take up a bed in a nursing home that is needed by many others, nor is it acceptable that an 80 year old woman should face this indignity.

While the HAP scheme could work well, and to be fair, it has worked in many circumstances, changes need to be made to encourage landlords and tenants to avail of it. That said, even when applicants are accepted onto the HAP scheme, there is a huge shortage of rental properties across south-west Cork. The position is not helped by the fact that councils do not know in an organised manner which properties have been vacant long-term or why they are vacant. This issue needs to be addressed immediately.

As an aside, the rental sector needs stricter regulation in the upkeep of properties, many of which are simply not maintained. It is not fair or reasonable to ask a tenant to reside in a substandard property.

As is the case in many rural areas, young couples in south-west Cork aspire to build their own family home. Clearly, there are huge costs associated with this. The position is compounded, however, by exorbitant levies and fees imposed by local councils. This places the idea of owning one's own home out of reach for many people. Private house building needs to be accessible to anybody who wishes to settle down in his or her own local area. Some progress has been made in budget 2018, but a lot more work is needed if this matter is to be addressed in any reasonable manner.

I thank Deputy Healy for moving the motion and giving Members the opportunity to speak about this important topic. Sinn Féin supports the principle behind the motion which we fully support. It is almost three years since Jonathan Corrie died on steps just opposite the entrance to this building. When he died as a rough sleeper, many of us were very reticent to comment publicly. This was in part out of respect for his family and friends. We did not want to be accused of being seen to use his very tragic death as a stick with which to beat the then Government. In the following weeks and months some of the commentary in the public debate increasingly appeared to attribute blame for his tragic and untimely death to aspects of his own life, that it had had to do with his mental health, lifestyle choices or refusal to enter into emergency accommodation. The more I learn about the detail of the case the more I am firmly of the view that none of these things is true. The death of a person like Jonathan Corrie is the direct result of a housing system which has been designed in such a way that it cannot find a permanent home for anybody, whatever complex issues Jonathan had in his life. The months passed and the promises and, in some cases, Government interventions rolled on. Others died and their names were never printed in the newspapers or they never became household names.

In August and September there were three deaths of people who had been experiencing homelessness: Jennifer in Cork, Danielle in Kildare and a young man who was living in emergency accommodation in the city centre. The debate that followed these deaths was of a very similar nature. Even the then Taoiseach, speaking on his way into the Government's housing summit, seemed to suggest the linking of the homelessness of these individuals with their cause of death was bad journalism and a misreporting of the facts. I know some of the cases quite well, from speaking to local politicians and county managers, and there is a direct link in all three cases between the experience of homelessness and the untimely death of the person involved. In the past seven days there have been three more deaths, of rough sleepers in this instance, in three different parts of the State, namely, Tralee, Dublin and Dundalk. I say all of this and choose my words very carefully because at some point we will have to accept that there is a relationship between Government policy, the housing crisis, the growing levels of homelessness and the increasing numbers of people who are losing their lives. At this point that is an indisputable fact.

I do not know what peoples' definition of an emergency is. People are dying on the streets because there is no emergency accommodation available and the emergency accommodation that is available is not appropriate. People cannot access permanent housing, or the allocation offer they have been made by a local authority is so stressful that it leads to someone taking his or her own life. That is the very definition of an emergency, but it is not the only definition. Before he left the Chamber the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said the Government was making progress, but the figures for homelessness suggest otherwise. Since Fine Gael took office six years ago, there has been a 300% increase in the level of child homelessness. That is not progress. Since the Government took office in 2016, there has been a 30% increase in almost all categories of homelessness. That clearly is not progress. On many occasions I have said the Government is simply not doing enough. There is not enough action to stem the flow of families moving to homelessness. The delivery of social housing is moving at a snail's pace and there is still a chronic over-reliance on the private sector by a factor of 70:30 for the delivery of housing that people need.

At his housing summit the Minister announced 18 measures which he appeared to justify in the Chamber today. Half of them had already been announced, or amounted to the rebranding of existing initiatives. Other measures will actually make the situation worse such as requiring all landlords to register all notices to quit with the Residential Tenancies Board, with no extra powers being given to the board. The Minister has made big play of saying the additional new build units were a big win. It would be if they were in addition units to the total amount already announced for delivery, but they are not. It was a figure shifted from acquisitions, which would actually be a quicker and better process for those in long-term homelessness. I am happy that there will be more new builds, but the total quantity announced by the Minister is exactly the same as that announced by the former Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, more than one year ago

I am sorry that the Minister is not in the Chamber to hear me speak, but since July he has made 64 separate policy announcements as part of his review of Rebuilding Ireland. Some have some merit and some have none at all. Some are reannouncements or a repackaging of other measures. My criticism is not that the Minister is making policy announcements but that the announcements lack any coherence whatsoever. It seems as though somebody is flailing around desperately trying to give the impression that action is being taken and changes are being made when, in fact, the very opposite is the case. Perhaps it is because he has not appointed a senior policy adviser on housing, he has a junior and inexperienced press officer or he just does not understand the depth of the crisis, but it is clear that we are not hearing the kinds of announcements and new initiatives that are urgently required to tackle it. The Government's counter motion is indicative of this. It refers to one aspect that is directly related to Deputy Healy's motion, something Deputy Cowen also mentioned, which is the referral of the socio-economic rights recommendations made by the Constitutional Convention to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. What better way to bury the recommendations than referring them to a committee that is wholly inadequate to deal with the matter. They should have been referred to a special Dáil committee with a range of expertise, or they should have been referred to the respective committees such as housing and health committees and so on. Referring them to the finance committee sends a very clear signal that money trumps rights and that we will not have a rights-based approach to this or any of the other issues in hand.

With regard to Fianna Fáil's amendment, I mean this in all sincerity, I find it disappointing that Deputy Cowen tabled the amendment in that form. I agree with much of what is contained in it, but it is actually not an amendment to the motion but an alternative proposition altogether. It would have been better if we had all sent a clear signal to the Government that we were not satisfied with the lack of urgency shown in tackling the homelessness crisis. We could have dealt with Deputy Cowen's amendment and the other policy issues, some of which have merit, while some do not, on another occasion. Sinn Féin is more than happy to support Deputy Healy's motion. Irrespective of the outcome, crucially we need to see the Government taking more action, delivering more homes and getting more families off the streets and out of emergency accommodation in order that there will be no more deaths.

We are in a national emergency as a result of the housing and a homelessness crisis. It is a sad fact that has been born out of the inaction of successive Governments. Fine Gael's reliance on the private sector to provide the required housing has proved to be disastrous.

The Government has also been deaf to our calls for a national social and affordable housing programme. If the Government and its predecessors had listened sooner, we might have avoided some of the worst aspects of the housing crisis and reduced the disastrous impact it has had on our most vulnerable citizens.

Recently, Sinn Féin published a vacant homes policy which calls on the Government to adopt a more ambitious approach to dealing with vacant properties. One of the key recommendations is the hiring of dedicated vacant homes officers within local authorities. These officers would be tasked with engaging with the owners of vacant properties to encourage them to return their homes to use. Vacant homes officers would build up a vacant homes register and work to a vacant homes plan. Such a plan is just one of the measures the Government could adopt to ensure that families have a place they can call home. Another constructive measure would be the introduction of rent certainty. Until this is achieved, the Government should, at the very least, extend the rent pressure zone legislation to the entire State.

The Government continually fails its citizens. It has had ample opportunity to rectify these man-made crises. It had the opportunity in its most recent budget to allocate resources and proper funding to alleviate the housing and homelessness crisis, but chose not to. The launch of the budget fell, coincidentally, on World Homeless Day but it was notable for its lack of any real initiatives to resolve the housing for the homeless crisis. The budget will fail to reduce homeless numbers or decrease the enormous number of people on local authority housing lists. It will also fail to increase the number of units being built. Already, demand vastly outstrips the number of units being built. As our homeless die on our streets and as families and individuals struggle to find a place to call home, the Government offers no hope, only disappointment, to these unfortunate people. We see the consequences of the Government's failed housing policy every day when we walk the streets and lanes around Leinster House. We see the Government's failure in the rough sleepers in shop doorways and along the side streets of our towns and cities and in those families moved, often every day, from one bed and breakfast accommodation to another. We see its failed policies in the thousands of children growing up in an environment of instability and uncertainty. The Government has provided no hope for the future to these unfortunate people. We must build more social and affordable housing, and local authorities need to take a lead role in that regard.

I thank Deputy Healy for providing the House with the opportunity to engage in this debate. The issue at the centre of his motion is very important in addressing the complex issue of housing. It is, at its heart, about balancing property rights and the common good under the Constitution and that is something we need to address carefully. I have tabled an amendment because the Labour Party does not believe it is necessary to declare an emergency in the way FEMPI legislation was introduced in order to address this issue. This time last year, we published a Bill seeking to implement the Kenny report as recommended by the all-party committee on the Constitution in its ninth progress report on private property. The report concluded that the Oireachtas has the power to restrict property rights in the public interest. A number of court decisions since then have established this in constitutional law. As such, there is no need for any kind of emergency legislation.

We refer in our amendment to the decision in the matter of the Planning and Development Bill 1999, in which the Supreme Court held that the Oireachtas is entitled to conclude that the provision of affordable housing and housing for persons in special categories, and of integrated housing, is rationally connected "to an objective of sufficient importance to warrant interference with a constitutionally protected right and, given the serious social problems which they are designed to meet, they undoubtedly relate to concerns which, in a free and democratic society, should be regarded as pressing and substantial". Certainly, the homelessness crisis makes it clear that the common good trumps property rights in the current situation. There is no reason the Kenny report recommendation on the purchase of land at its current value plus 25% cannot be implemented. This is important because the hoarding of land is one of the factors which is curtailing supply. There is a great deal of property owned by developers which could be developed. They make the argument that it is not affordable to build, but I am sure they are already rushing to get involved in the 700 publicly owned sites on which public money is being spent to create infrastructure. They will rush to have their piece of the action on those sites.

An example was made public in my constituency last week. In one way, it is very good news. A sizeable piece of land in Mungret is subject to a plan to build approximately 850 homes. Almost all of the land is owned by the local authority and a great deal of the infrastructure fund has been spent on it. Money from the Department of Education and Skills has also been spent there because there are three schools on the site also. My concern is that we have no guarantee that the homes which will be built on that site will be affordable. I have expressed that concern publicly. There is no affordable housing scheme to date. The local authority must now grapple with the development of this site in the absence of a national programme to ensure the homes are affordable. If one looks at any of the statistics around the cost of housing, which is not as expensive in Limerick as it is in Dublin, we are in danger with these sites, which Members will also have in their own constituencies, of ending up in that same situation. At the end of all of this, publicly owned sites will be built on while the privately owned sites are sat on until more profit can be made. We have to intervene in that situation or we will fail to get the necessary level of public housing we need.

I support those who have said we need to see public housing happen quickly. I am interested in the various figures on house completions in different years. Deputy MacSharry made the point that the length of time it takes to get from the beginning to the end of a public housing programme is a real problem. There are many sites which are now ready but we need to see public and affordable housing predominate on them. My fear is that this will not happen. Either they will sit and wait for another couple of years, or the housing will be predominantly private housing for profit at prices above what ordinary families can afford. That is a crucial issue. We will end up in the same situation with everyone competing for the small number of social houses that become available and the small number of houses which are affordable to the average family. There are then the people who are squeezed into the private rental market who are on social housing lists but cannot get a house or who cannot afford to buy a house because they cannot get a mortgage or save the amount for the deposit. Those people are stuck in the same rental process with a limited amount of supply. As such, we need to get moving on both ends.

We need to get the private market building without hoarding land and we need to get public and affordable housing and mixed tenure situations on publicly owned land. All of these things are interconnected and important. That is why I welcome Deputy Healy's motion. I do not have any huge problem with it albeit we felt it should be amended on the basis that we can actually act now. We have added some other matters such as linking rental increases to the consumer price index which many of us have already proposed in legislation in the House. We must deal with the issue of rent pressure zones.

I do not know if the Minister of State will have an opportunity to reply but we were told there would be a review of the issue relating to rent pressure zones because they are not working. Areas are excluded, as Deputy Moynihan indicated. Excluding a city such as Limerick does not work and that puts people in extraordinarily difficult situations.

The Ó Cualann voluntary housing co-operative in Ballymun is an example where, if public land and a not-for-profit system is used, affordable homes can be provided even in Dublin, which is the most expensive part of the country. This model is an indication of what can be done with publicly owned land by people who do not make a profit from building homes. Homes are for people. They are a social necessity and they should not be for private profit.

I wish to share time with Deputy Boyd Barrett.

We are debating the housing crisis. I have no faith in the market or the Government to solve this problem and, therefore, I would like to use my contribution to call on the trade union movement to organise a major national demonstration on the housing crisis and to use that to launch a nationwide protest campaign to force change on this issue. Last Christmas, we witnessed the occupation of Apollo House in Dublin city centre. Housing activists and homeless people joined forces to occupy a NAMA-owned property. The message was simple: this is the people's property, it should be used to benefit people's lives as should all NAMA properties nationwide. A court case was taken against the campaigners but nobody cared. The attitude of society was it was better to break the law than break the poor. The public support was massive. Hundreds of volunteers stepped forward within days and more than €150,000 in donations was collected within ten days. This public support was a vote of no confidence in the market and in the political establishment to solve the housing crisis. If that occupation had lasted just a small bit longer, it might well have created the space for big water charges-style protests in support.

One year on, the housing crisis is worse than ever. Market failure is even more glaring, as is Government failure so what happens now? The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, organises within its ranks 527,000 workers in this State. It is far and away the largest organisation of working people in this country. ICTU members are among those who are crippled by rocketing rents and unaffordable mortgages, and who are spending tonight, in some cases, with their families in emergency accommodation. The trade union movement has a special responsibility towards young people. A total of 500,000 young adults in this State live at home with their parents, very many of them because they cannot afford to buy a home or rent a property. They are the locked out generation. ICTU can and should name the date for a major national housing demonstration. Such a demonstration could demand the declaration of a national housing emergency, massive State investment to directly build social and affordable homes and a ban on economic evictions. It could also be the start for a national campaign which provides for a vehicle for those who want to organise and fight on this issue in every town and city up and down the country.

Why is it that the Government feels it is necessary and possible to introduce emergency measures and emergency legislation to cut people's pay, to bail out banks or, as Deputy Murphy, said, to show its capacity in a good sense to take emergency measures in the face of a hurricane hitting this country? Governments can take emergency measures, marshal resources in an urgent way, which they would not do in ordinary times, and solve problems but when it comes to Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and, indeed, the Labour Party when it was in government, the emergency measures are always about protecting banks and other financial institutions while refusing to acknowledge the emergency in housing and homelessness even when that causes untold human hardship.

My clinic is a tragic litany of cases of people in appalling situations. I had a case of young woman this week, which is heart breaking. She and her two children are in emergency accommodation. She has spent nine years on the housing list and she is close to a mental breakdown. With tears in her eyes, she said, "You know, I have been homeless all my life because before I went on the housing list and ended up in this situation with my two kids, my mother was on the housing list for the previous 15 years without ever getting a council house either and being pushed form Billy to Jack with me as a baby and then a child and now I am in the same situation". What an unbelievable failure of the main political parties in this country to do that to three generations of a family - her mother, herself and now her two young kids. Her case can be repeated again and again and still the Government will not call this an emergency and it refuses to take the emergency action it was so willing to take to ram through legislation to protect banks and financial institutions.

As I said in recent weeks, the situation is getting worse and now even all the hotels and hubs are full. There is nowhere for people to go. I could raise many issues but the budget reflected the Government's continued prioritisation of private for-profit interests. Most of the housing budget allocation goes to its friends, the private developers. A total of €750 million was allocated to the Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, agency initiative which will go to private developers with an additional €75 million allocated to the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, on top of the €226 million originally allocated to it, an additional €31 million for long-term leasing and an additional €149 million for HAP. All this money goes to the private sector. What will the State get back from that? The Government has no answer to this. Almost none of the housing for which we will finance the private sector, to the tune of almost €1 billion, will be affordable. The LIHAF or HBFI funding is not tied to affordability or to a proportion of affordable housing that will be built. The Government will spend €1 billion on subsidising private developers to build housing at prices that are unaffordable and they will probably pay little tax either. The Government parties are still doing the things that led us into this mess in the first place and the consequences are such that a third generation of families is left in diabolical, unacceptable and immoral housing situations.

I wish to share time with Deputies Joan Collins and Michael Fitzmaurice.

I wonder what to say in the three minutes I have. I do not address my comments to the Minister of State or Fianna Fáil or the Labour Party because I have lost all faith. My role and the role of the Opposition is to give confidence to the people outside the House that there are people in here who do not believe the propaganda that the Government is rebuilding Ireland. It is reshaping Ireland in order that the vast majority of our people will never afford a house, will live in accommodation with no security of tenure and will not be able participate in its so-called "republic of opportunity".

I sat here and listened to members of the Labour Party, who have left. I point that out because I do not like to speak behind anyone's back.

To speak about the Kenny report published in the 1970s, when the Labour Party was in power, is bad enough. The Labour Party was also in the previous Government which had an overwhelming majority but it absolutely failed to use it to deal with the housing crisis. Instead it presided over legislation that fundamentally changed the issue in terms of housing. The Labour Party said that the housing assistance payment in the legislation it introduced in 2014 was the equivalent of social housing. Therefore, if in receipt of a housing assistance payment, a person was considered adequately housed. Naturally, there was outrage about this. People were removed from the housing waiting list and I was accused of being a liar when I said it. At the time I was a lawyer and they might be very close, but it was confirmed by the director of services. The legislation introduced by Fine Gael and the Labour Party said that the only game in town was the housing assistance payment, and a person was removed from the waiting list once he or she got it. I understand the position now is that the person is put on a transfer list. Therefore, to get to the truth of how many households are on a waiting list, one has to consider the waiting list, the transfer list and those who have are in long-term leasing.

The Government persists with its spin that it is building social housing. The local authority in Galway has given up giving us figures. In April of this year, its quarterly report does not give us figures. The figure for September of last year was 4,720 households. That is somewhere between 13,000 and 15,000 people on a waiting list since 2002, with not a hope of a house. Last Saturday week, I sat in an apartment that is about to be sold, and it is one of two groups of apartments. The tenants have already been evicted so that the landlord can do Airbnb. Those tenants fought and did their best but, in the end, had to look after themselves and try to find alternatives.

I will stop for my colleague. I beg her pardon.

I will start by referring to a headline - Republic of Homeless? - which was followed by some facts: 8,270 homeless people; 3,048 homeless children; more than 73,000 mortgages in arrears; 120,000 people on local authority housing lists; 141 repossessions taking place per month; two families becoming homeless per day; 46% of all homeless people are under 24 years of age; life expectancy for a homeless woman is 38; life expectancy for a homeless man is 42; and 8,000 units being built but there is demand for 25,000. This does not include those who are struggling to pay exorbitant rents in the private sector such as young workers who have to move away from home and pay more than 50% of their income in rent. Students who moved to main urban areas or come from outside the State to attend college have huge difficulty in finding affordable housing. Another headline stated "hide the bunkbeds" as a major slum landlord operation was uncovered and it was revealed that more than 40 houses and apartments in slum conditions were being run by a group. This is a crisis and it requires urgent action. It is an emergency and should be declared as such, and I commend Deputy Healy on tabling this Private Members' motion tonight.

Two weeks ago we had a non-event of a budget from Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Government of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. It was a budget that did nothing to alleviate widespread consistent poverty affecting 140,000 children or to recognise the crisis of our health service. Yesterday a leading medical expert predicted the collapse of the health service if we have a serious outbreak of 'flu this winter. It was a budget that completely failed to recognise the housing and homelessness crisis.

We probably have had a Private Members' motion on housing every week since we returned from the summer recess and I support this motion. However, I am convinced that we will get no movement on this crisis unless a mass movement is built outside this building, a movement on the streets to unify hundreds of thousands who are affected in one way or another and to demand a new approach based on the right to housing as opposed to the right to profit for developers, landlords, vulture funds, hotels and banks. Right2Change is organising a conference on 4 November, Saturday week, and will be discussing this and, my God, we will see people out on the streets shortly.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion. Everyone knows that there is a housing crisis, especially in the major cities. Approximately one year ago, I proposed a points system, which other countries have used, as it may attract people to move to other areas. They may not want to go to there long-term but they would get points that would give them priority on the housing list in an area they wanted when a house became available. We should examine that as an option.

We can speak here every night about housing but the fact is that this crisis will not be resolved happen overnight. There is no point in saying otherwise. Houses do not go up in a matter of days. We have to make sure, however, that we have a way to do it. The Department may be good at policy, with many documents having been published, and councils may be good at planning, but one thing is missing, which is delivery and knowing how to build houses fast. This is a huge problem.

There is another problem and it is happening in our own neck of the woods in the west of Ireland. Some of the councils did not put in for enough money to the Department. It is embarrassing that those things happen when we need to ensure that there is delivery of houses.

A genuine effort to speed up things is needed. We have seen all the paperwork and all the different policies for the past number of years but houses are not being put on the ground. Unless we ramp that up fast, we will see more of the problem. Further, during the formation of Government talks, I put forward a proposal about colleges borrowing money to build student accommodation, which would alleviate a bit, not all, of the problem in many cities. At long last, and it was only today or yesterday that it came to fruition, I see that they are starting to do it in Galway, but it needs to be ramped up. A huge amount of land is available on many of these campuses. They can facilitate the youngsters and thereby help those who are in trouble with homelessness.

I will be parochial about the housing problem and perhaps change the debate slightly. Killarney is no different from many other places in that there is a significant housing list and houses are scarce at the present time. Anything from €900 to €1,200 per month is being asked in rent for houses but the maximum rent allowable under the housing assistance payment scheme is approximately €550.

Killarney is also unusual in that most of the land south of the town is prime amenity. It includes the national park, Killarney House and lands and Muckross House and lands. However, we are now awaiting the local area plan for Killarney for 12 months to 18 months. There were many instances where there was phase 1 and phase 2. In phase 1, the lands were held up because the people had no money or whatever. In phase 2, people were prepared to go. I want to tell the Minister of State that there is no hoarding in Killarney. Many people are waiting for the draft plan from Kerry County Council.

The Department has a role in ensuring that more land is allowed to be zoned residential, as was allowed heretofore. I am asking the Department to increase the amount so zoned. It is wrong to confine the amount of land that is zoned. If only so many property owners' land is zoned, they have a monopoly, which means that they can charge more and it is the person buying the house who will pay the piper. It is very unfair. Zoning should not happen at all. If an application is made, it should be up to the local authorities to decide that it is worthwhile, that it meets all the requirements and that all the services are available where they are being built, etc.

It takes up a lot of time and in many instances it finishes up being very unfair.

The repair and leasing scheme should be extended to rural towns and villages. It only operates where there is pressure for social housing. Most rural areas, towns and villages are practically dead. If the Government is serious about bringing people back to revitalise them, it will have to extend the repair and leasing scheme to apply to rural areas.

I have highlighted many times in the House that 80% of people applying for the tenant purchase scheme are being disallowed. It is very unfair that pensioners who have lived in a house for 30 or 40 years and now have the wherewithal to purchase it are being denied the right to purchase it. That is very wrong. The Minister of State should look into that.

I compliment Deputy Healy on bringing forward this motion. As with many other Private Member's motions and Bills, the Government is not listening.

It does not want to hear. It is a case of speak no evil, hear no evil and see no evil. The housing policies are a disaster and were so long before the recession kicked in because the Government gave in to the private sector. The councils had stopped building. There is an argument there. The councils do not get the money but the Government says it gave it to them. Deputy Fitzmaurice said a minute ago that the councils had not applied for enough money.

We have heard different announcements and Rebuilding Ireland is the latest coupled with "an Ireland of opportunities". Where are the opportunities? The housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme is the biggest disaster ever implemented. Who brought it in? It was AK47 himself, the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. He was going to sort everything out. He would not build. Where is he tonight? Where is the Labour Party? It was the party that looked after the working man, ordinary families, small farmers and business people over the years in my county, with Members such as Seán Treacy, the late John Ryan, Michael Ferris and many others. They had the confidence of the ordinary people. The party does not have that now because it got into bed with Fine Gael which was not interested in the ordinary people. It never was. It will hardly be interested now. Scheme after scheme will be launched and there will be conferences and announcements. I am on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, but I do not bother going to the meetings because they are futile. The schemes are all built like sandcastles. At the first drop of water that comes inshore, they disappear. They are not realisable or achievable because the Government does not understand the basics of allowing the county councils to build the houses and providing them with the wherewithal to do that.

On the other hand, there are many young couples in my constituency who have employment and sites, thank God. They have engaged agents to design houses and apply for planning permission but they cannot get it. Every obstacle in the book is put before them. It may be that it is a designated area, such as a special area of conservation, SAC, but ordinary people, even farmers' sons or daughters, have no hope unless they are farming 25 ha or more. There has to be only one person farming. It is a case of to hell or to Connaught. They could house themselves and the Government will not allow them. It is herding them into towns, but it will not allow schemes in towns, such as conversion of shops that are closed to housing. There has to be change of use and planning fees, and the fees and development charges are high. It is not viable. It is not profitable for small builders to build a house.

The banks will not give a penny to anybody to build a house. They are not functioning as far as ordinary people are concerned. We have seen what has happened with the tracker mortgages, repossessions and how the courts are not protecting people. They are evicting people by the week. A child in senior infants could do the arithmetic to show that the Government is putting more people out of houses every week than it is building houses for and the crisis gets worse. I walked down the street near here this evening and saw massive building sites with towering cranes, all development of offices. I welcome that because it brings jobs, but where are those people going to live? The Government has put the cart before the horse. It has lost its way completely as regards housing. The Labour Party totally acquiesced in that and denied the people the right to get a home, and denied their rights under the Constitution. It is a far cry from the Labour Party that was founded in Clonmel. The Government got away with that but the people gave it a severe wallop, as the then Taoiseach said, but it will get more of them because it is not doing anything to help ordinary people get housing.

Tá an Comhaontas Glas fíorshásta tacaíocht a thabhairt don rún seo. This motion calls on the Government to exercise its powers under the Constitution to tackle this unprecedented crisis in housing and homelessness in our country. Yesterday the European Committee of Social Rights published a decision delivered in May of this year in the case of the International Federation of Human Rights v. Ireland, concluding that Ireland violated Article 16 of the Revised European Social Charter due to its "unsatisfactory protection against poverty and social exclusion of persons living in local authority housing estates". This is a damning indictment of our country. The case was taken in 2014 in respect of substandard State housing. What the decision really highlights is how the Government has failed the family unit, which is protected under Article 16 of the revised European Social Charter. It is not just in respect of substandard buildings that this Government fails the family unit. Children and families who are now homeless are suffering, and their health, well-being and education are being adversely affected.

How many people must be homeless for the Government to recognise that this is an unprecedented emergency? Will it be the fact that there are now 3,000 children without a place to call home? Are 1,429 homeless families, a rise of 25% in the last year, not enough? We need homes for these families, not hubs. Surely it is way past time for the Government to declare a housing and homelessness emergency. The Green Party is happy to support this motion and commends Deputy Healy on bringing it before the House.

The Government lacks vision and strategic planning when it comes to the scale of the housing and homelessness crisis which severely affects the most vulnerable in our society. It is time for the Government to view housing as a human right and one that must be enshrined within our Constitution. In the past four years there have been four Ministers with responsibility for housing. This is indicative of the Government's track record and shows the level of genuine intent, level of priority and respect for the role of this Ministry which is at the centre of the biggest crisis of our time. There has been no continuity, no stability and no appropriate demonstration from this Government of the level of priority and real action the crisis clearly and urgently needs.

In the recent budget, in seeking to do a little for everyone, the Government ended up doing nothing significant for anyone. It did very little for some of the most vulnerable in our society, those who are without a home and those who are trying to deal with an unsustainable and unaffordable property market. These are people whom the State is failing and leaving on incredibly long housing lists or in an unaffordable housing market with skyrocketing house prices and forced to rent without any security of tenure.

The recent announcement by the Government of its intention to increase the vacant site levy is to be welcomed. However, it is a shame that earlier this year, in February, when my Green Party colleague, Senator Grace O'Sullivan, introduced the Derelict and Vacant Sites Bill in the Seanad, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael chose to vote against it. I welcome the Government's recognition now that this increase is needed, but it still demonstrates this Government's lack of ambition and its inability to do anything other than take minute steps to tackle big problems as this increase will not come into full force until at least 2019. The budget could have seen a shift to focusing on a cost-rental model of local authority building.

Instead, the Government is continuing with its outdated logic that the private market alone can fix the crisis in housing and homelessness. In the words of former Chief Secretary in Dublin Castle, Thomas Drummond in 1838, "property has its duties as well as its rights". Our Constitution is quite strong in recognising property rights but it also recognises the need of the common good to be served, which must prioritise the needs of those most vulnerable in our society. Unfortunately, this Government does not seem to recognise or be willing to act on that fact. It is absolutely unacceptable that the lack of real action we have seen from the Government continues. The Green Party will support this motion to show that the Dáil not only recognises the scale of the problem but the urgent and pressing need to take immediate and effective action.

I thank Deputy Healy for tabling the motion. I know it is genuine and that most people's comments in this debate and in the debates on housing and homelessness we have had here have been pretty much genuine. I understand that. We might not agree with all parts of the motion but most people want to see the housing situation sorted for social and private housing because it affects many of us. I thank Members for their interest in that as well and for the chance to go through some of the topics raised here tonight.

As Deputy Healy highlighted in his introductory comments, we are experiencing an unprecedented housing crisis that is impacting on many households and many types of household across the country. They include those facing rents rising beyond their means; families who are finding it difficult to repay their mortgages and who are at risk of losing their homes; first-time buyers who are priced out of the market because of the lack of supply, particularly in the starter home bracket; individuals driven to rough sleeping; and families in hotels and hubs, which are not suitable for anybody. It is not just social housing. As Deputy MacSharry said earlier, it also affects investment and job creation and we understand that. Companies that I used to deal with many years ago in my previous ministerial role are coming forward to say that it is difficult to invest and plan ahead for more employees when they are concerned that there might not be houses to house them in years to come. It has certainly become a big issue.

Part of the work of the Department is to sit down with people to show what is going to happen in the years ahead and to show the progress and the trends that we believe will help solve the housing crisis. We all know we cannot solve it in one week, two months or three months but over the next couple of years, we will solve the housing crisis and emergency. We are having an impact. The trends are there. When one sits down and analyses the data, not spin or rhetoric but facts, one will see that there is progress in housing supply and social housing delivery. It is not enough by any means but people need to acknowledge that it is far better than it was two years ago in terms of the supply of housing and movement when it comes to sites and social housing provision. I know it is not enough to deal with the housing crisis or homelessness issue. I am not saying it is but I would say to people who come in here week after week and accuse the Minister and me along with others of rhetoric and spin that this is not what we are about. We are being very straight about this and have been from the start in terms of dealing with homelessness figures, admitting what they are and putting through various actions and plans to deal with them. We put the figures out week in, week out and month in, month out for people to track and see what is happening. That is not spin. Facts are not spin.

I must question whether some of the rhetoric here is spin because it does not deal with the facts. Even Deputy Mattie McGrath came in here again tonight and said we are not listening, yet when I try to correct what he says every week, he does not want to listen to it, so it works both ways. I have no problem admitting there is a major housing crisis and saying the Government is finding it difficult to solve it but I will not be told week in, week out that we are doing nothing about it or nothing has changed because that is not true. If we are going to genuinely approach this issue, let us approach it in a logical manner and deal with the facts.

The Deputy from Galway spoke about HAP being a failure and argued that it is not a good scheme. That is not true either because thousands of people availing of the HAP scheme find it a great scheme because it solves their housing problems. They know it is not a permanent solution. We all know that. It is a temporary solution, in some cases, for three, four or five years while in other cases, it solves the problem for a year or two, but HAP is helping thousands of people. Next year, another 17,000 people will be helped through the HAP scheme. The HAP scheme is a reformed rent assistance scheme that had been there for many years. Thousands of people used it and people came in here and said it was a great scheme.

There is one fundamental problem with that scheme that I disliked and discussed with Deputy Burton many years ago when she was Minister. A person could not go back to work if they were on the rent allowance scheme. As soon as a person went back to work or increased their income, bang, their rent support was gone. That is not the situation with HAP and that is why most people, or certainly people who claim they are on the left, should welcome it because it is a housing assistance payment that does not drop off if a person gets a job or increases his or her employment. It is a very useful scheme. It is not one that we will rely on forever but we recognise that while we are trying to increase the number of social houses, we need to rely on private schemes in some cases. That is what HAP is for. It recognises that there are not enough houses in the social housing stock for everyone who needs a house so, yes, we have to rent houses in the short term.

When we implement this plan, we will have increased the housing stock by over one third and will be in a position to be able to offer people a more permanent housing solution as opposed to just a HAP house. People should not keep saying it is not working. Yes, there are individual cases where it does not solve individual problems but for thousands upon thousands, it is working and they are very happy with it. If one asked them to move tomorrow, they would not move so let us just deal with some facts here rather than the spin from the other side.

It is said here week after week that this Government does not believe in social housing and that Fine Gael is against social housing. That is untrue. Before we came into office, a decision was made here to restrict the number of social houses being directly built by local authorities, to wind down capacity and to pull the funding. The Fine Gael-Labour Party Government made changes to that and the following Fine Gael Government supported by Fianna Fáil has followed through and is making changes to put local authorities back into the business of driving the provision of social housing. Of the 33,000 plus houses that will be built directly as opposed to leased under Rebuilding Ireland, local authorities are driving the majority and are central to that. They are in charge of social housing and rightly so and most of the €6 billion we spend on housing has been spent by them. Again, factually, it is wrong to say we are doing nothing or we are against social housing. It is just not true because the money is there. The figure of €1.9 billion for housing this year is the largest housing budget ever in this State. It is factually untrue to say that as a Fine Gael-led Government, we are against social housing. It is just not true because the figures speak for themselves. We are investing where we can. Yes, it does not solve the problem today but it will solve it over the months and years ahead if we continue with that investment and that is what we are doing.

We are also repeatedly told that we are not providing enough social houses and yet everyone quotes the housing committee formed early last year, which suggested that the Government should deliver 10,000 social houses per year and 50,000 in total over five years. Everyone says that is the figure it should achieve and yet nobody realises that this is exactly what we are doing in Rebuilding Ireland. It is the exact same figure. Our commitment is 50,000 social housing units outside of HAP over the next five years. That is what we are doing so we are actually matching the committee that all the Members praise. Again, the facts do not add up here. I ask people that when they come in to this Chamber week in, week out to let us look at the facts. I accept hand over heart that it is not enough to solve the problem but we are doing more. We are putting more money in and we will try more schemes because we want to solve this.

Nobody is happy with the homeless situation. Deputies quoted the figures from the times we are in but if we look back over the homeless figures for even the good times such as 2006, nearly 4,000 individuals were homeless. It is different now because we now have families that are homeless who were not homeless ten or 15 years ago. We really must concentrate on that aspect and it is where we are putting most of our resources. It is why we are opening family hubs to recognise that there are now families that are homeless, including thousands of children. The family hubs are a better form of emergency housing. They are not permanent and are not meant to be permanent. In some cases, they are for three or four months while in other cases, they are for six or seven months as people transition from an emergency situation in a bed and breakfast accommodation, hotel or even the street into a hub and then on to a house. They are working quite well. Again, people in the family hubs say that they are a lot better than what they had before that. They know it is not the end solution and we know that too. We must get them a house and we will. Deal with the facts and talk to those who are living in these situations.

Other issues were raised - I have probably gone off my main speech - such as the repair and leasing scheme, which I believe is a great scheme. We provided the money for it but it will not reach its target because it is being under-utilised. We offered the scheme but it is demand-led. The public needs to say "Yes" to it. It is privately driven.

We have repeatedly asked councillors, political parties and local authorities to support the scheme and push it out there, yet the number of applications around the country is only about 600. It is wrong to say it is not available for rural areas or small towns and villages because it absolutely is. It is available not only in high-pressure areas for social housing but also where there is a demand or need for any social housing. It does not matter what town it is. It could be in Kenmare, which is close to where Deputy Danny Healy-Rae is from, if there is a need for a social house there. That scheme solves two problems. It gets people a social house and it helps repair dereliction and the decline of villages and towns. It will do so over many years, not just over five but probably 50 years. It is a good scheme and it is there for that reason.

On the issue of zoning of land, Deputy Danny Healy-Rae raised the point about Kerry. I said it last week and I will say it again, that in most cities, towns and villages we zone 50% above what we believe is needed to allow for a situation in which not every site is brought forward. We can do that more if a councillor comes to us with evidence to prove more land is required to be zoned. That is part of my remit in the Department. We apply common sense and we will do that if it is required. In most cases and in many of our counties there is sufficient land zoned to deliver housing. We need to activate it and make it possible. Numerous schemes in Rebuilding Ireland are about activating these sites and providing the money for the infrastructure to open up the sites. There are many different schemes. We brought forward a fund to finance small builders who cannot get access to funding. People talk about it here as if there is a grant. It is not a grant. It is a loan on a commercial basis which will be repaid. It is utilising finances in a clever way to activate housing. Any money we spend on infrastructure to open up sites will be reflected in the price of the house that is sold back.

I welcome the opportunity to respond to the debate and in particular to address the amendments tabled by the Government of Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party. It is important to note that none of the amendments challenges the fundamental principle of the motion. Therefore, it is very clear it is totally within the law to bring forward measures which, in the public interest, impinge on private property rights in matters relating to housing, in accordance with Articles 43.2.1° and 43.2.2° of Bunreacht na hÉireann.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in his contribution indicated I wanted either to suspend or change the Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth. I made it quite plain that my proposal was to use the existing provisions of Bunreacht na hÉireann, subject to the exigencies of the common good, as the articles say, to declare a housing emergency and to deal with amendments that are needed to ensure the housing and homelessness emergency is dealt with urgently. The Minister also said his policy is working and that is what his amendment says. However, I can tell him that nobody I know believes that. The Minister should ask any of the advocacy groups or Brother Kevin who deals with homeless people hourly and daily. He should ask the many volunteers who are running soup kitchens all over this country, including those running the soup kitchen at the historic GPO in O'Connell Street in Dublin, the site of the 1916 Rising. He should ask the volunteers running the soup kitchen at the railway station in my home town of Clonmel. They will all tell the Minister that not enough is being done and that the situation is getting worse.

What do some of the advocacy groups say? Focus Ireland in the past fortnight said "We’re never going to tackle this problem if we don’t reduce the flow of people coming into homelessness." Its representative went on to say, "There is a failure to understand how critical that obvious point is that you need to cut the numbers coming in and not just look at the emergency measures when they're homeless." He went on to say:

This is a question of ideology. It's putting property rights ahead of the rights of tenants.

What did the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice say just a week ago? It said, "Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, relies far too heavily on market-based solutions to the problems facing Irish housing." For this reason it predicts the plan will fail in its stated objective of developing a housing system that is affordable, stable and sustainable. It went on to say that despite the efforts of the Government over the 15 months since Rebuilding Ireland was published, homelessness has increased by 27%, asking prices for houses have risen by 12%, and new rental prices have increased by 11.8%. The availability of rented properties within the limits for the various rent supplement schemes have diminished. It goes on to say that the policy of the past 25 years has led to a chronic undersupply of real social housing and has resulted in the homelessness crisis we are now experiencing and in the trebling of the number of households on housing waiting lists between 1996 and 2016. The social policy officer with the centre went on to say, "As we mark the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we need to recognise that housing deprivation is one of the most serious forms of poverty in the Ireland of today and that in recent years the housing system has become the locus of some of the deepest inequality evident in our society." She went on to say that the Jesuit centre is calling for a new direction for housing policy in Ireland, one based on recognising that housing is a fundamental human right. What did Fr. Peter McVerry say as recently as 18 October? He said "Unless we prevent more people coming into the system, then trying to house homeless people is like trying to empty the bath water with the tap still running." He went on to say:

It should be made illegal to evict people into homelessness, particularly families. That’s what we did during the famine years and we’re still doing it today in 2017.

He said:

Basically, I think, this whole question of housing, you have to take on vested interests. You have to take on the banks. You have to take on the greedy landlords. You have to take on the vulture funds. You have to take on big vested interests. I think that is what this conservative Government is not prepared to do.

Nobody believes that what the Government is doing to tackle the crisis in housing and homelessness is enough. The Government is burying its head in the sand. The Fianna Fáil amendment is one of its usual spin. Fianna Fáil started the privatisation of social housing. It handed the building of social houses over to its builder and developer friends. It stopped local authorities building social and affordable houses. I recall quite well when I was a member of South Tipperary County Council that the policy was announced at a council meeting. I said at the time it would end in grief, and it has. It has led to the slippery slope of the housing and homeless emergency we have today. It has led to a tripling of the numbers on the housing waiting lists since 1996.

The Labour Party amendment is totally disingenuous. It claims the Kenny report would apparently now survive constitutional scrutiny. The Kenny report, which people may or may not know, was published in 1974 and dealt with the price of building land. That means, 43 years later, the Labour Party finds it would survive constitutional scrutiny. It sounds to me very much like the conversion of Saul on the road to Damascus. One must remember that in those 43 years, the Labour Party was in government on no fewer than three occasions and had senior housing Ministers. It did absolutely nothing to implement that report. The amendment also states that "the power of the Oireachtas to impose restrictions on [private] property rights in the public interest is by now constitutionally well established". However, Deputy Howlin introduced the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation which he said required the declaration of a housing emergency and a certification of that emergency to ensure the private property rights of pensioners could be reduced and withheld.

A previous Labour Party Minister with responsibility for housing regularly indicated that he was prevented from introducing rent control measures because of constitutional difficulties. Of course, the Labour Party Attorney General gave advice that it was unconstitutional to give sitting tenants the right to continue their tenancies in cases of sale. This was disingenuous, to say the least.

Deputies Mick Barry and Joan Collins referred to the need for a major national housing campaign outside the House. I agree that one will be needed if we are to deal with the housing and homelessness emergency.

The amendments tabled by the Government, Fianna Fáil and the Labour Party indicate that they are prepared to formally declare a financial emergency and to use it to remove a considerable portion of the private property of public service pensioners on quite low incomes, but when it comes to the private property of vulture funds, banks and the Irish super-rich, they are unwilling to take similar measures to tackle the homelessness crisis. I, therefore, again propose the motion to enable those who are suffering in the housing emergency to be rescued urgently from their awful plight. I appeal to all Members, particularly backbenchers, to support the motion. There could be no more appropriate way to honour the memory of Pádraig Mac Piarais, the other 1916 Rising leaders and the Deputies in the Thirty-two Counties who voted through the primacy of human welfare over private property in the democratic programme of the First Dáil in 1919. I commend the motion to the House.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 26 October 2017.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.05 p.m. until 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 25 October 2017.