Housing Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2018: Second Stage [Private Members]

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

The Bill seeks to formally declare the housing and homelessness crisis a national emergency. The Bill provides for the delimiting of the rights of landlords, banks and finance houses, including vulture funds, in order to prevent tenants and mortgage holders from eviction as provided for under Bunreacht na hÉireann and as advocated for by Focus Ireland and many other agencies dealing with homelessness.

On 29 March, the Taoiseach addressed the Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. He stated "I have no difficulty whatsoever describing the housing shortage or the homelessness crisis as an emergency." The situation has worsened significantly since then. Comparing like-with-like figures, by September 2018 the total number of homeless had increased by 1,497 persons including 442 extra adults and a shocking 1,055 extra children, reaching a total of 11,304 persons.

Focus Ireland also pointed out that 193 additional children became homeless in September alone.

Last week, Professor Eoin O’Sullivan, head of the school of social work and social policy at Trinity College Dublin, advised the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government that the housing situation would get worse next year. He said that much more than 50% of people who become homeless are from the private rented sector, that rents are escalating rapidly, and that until something is done about the right to terminate tenancies there will be a continuing flow into homelessness.

Yesterday there were shocking new figures of rent increases. Rents nationwide rose by 11.3% in the year to September, with no slowdown in sight, as average rents nationally were pushed to an all-time high of €1,334, €304 or 30% more expensive than during the Celtic tiger. The average rent in Dublin is close to €2,000 per month, while rental growth in Limerick exceeded 20% in the past year. It is clear the Government's policy of rent pressure areas is simply not working. The national spokesperson for the Simon Community, Niamh Randall, put it in a nutshell when she said on radio that rents cannot be controlled while evictions from the private rented sector continue.

Tenants are afraid to complain lest they be evicted, and there is no national register of rents. New tenants have no way of knowing what the rent paid by the previous tenant was, and dare not ask lest they be excluded from consideration for scarce accommodation and end up homeless. The Government knows well that its policy of rent control in rent pressure zones is not working, as it has repeatedly been told by the various homeless agencies.

The dice are loaded in favour of landlords. While some decent landlords are not taking advantage, the commercial landlords, including the vultures, are. Irish citizens are paying a heavy price and the common good is not served by current Government policy. At least half a million people in the Republic are in housing situations that are causing them serious distress, as homelessness campaigner Fr. Peter McVerry stated at a conference in Liberty Hall recently.

As legislators, we all have a responsibility to change drastically this situation in the interest of the common good. Dáil Eireann has, by majority, called on the Government to propose emergency measures to do so, through a Private Members’ motion that called on the Government to declare the housing and homelessness crisis an emergency; to reduce the flow of adults and children into homelessness through emergency legislation making it illegal for landlords, banks and investment funds to evict tenants and homeowners in mortgage distress into homelessness; to provide real security of tenure and real rent certainty; to introduce measures to reduce the cost of rent; and to introduce a target date to end long-term homelessness and the need to sleep rough.

As an Opposition Deputy, under Standing Orders I am not allowed to propose a money Bill. Accordingly, the Bill implements only measures to halt the worsening situation. Focus Ireland has repeatedly highlighted through its services and research that the main reason for families becoming homeless is that they are being evicted from their homes by private landlords due to properties being sold or repossessed. To remedy this, the right to private property must be delimited, as provided for in Bunreacht na hÉireann in Article 43.2.2°, which states: “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.” A large number of citizens are being subjected to unreasonable and extortionate rents, contrary to the common good, and the problem is worsening continuously. This must be halted.

Section 1 provides that Dáil Éireann affirms in law that a housing emergency exists. Section 2 provides that a housing emergency will continue for a period of three years after the passing of the Bill and that the Government will bring a review before both Houses of the Oireachtas on the expiry of the three year period. Section 3 provides that no tenant shall be evicted from a buy-to-let dwelling, that is, a dwelling purchased for letting purposes, during the period of this national housing emergency. Section 4 provides that there shall be no further increase in rents on dwellings. Section 5 provides that existing private rents shall be reduced to reasonable levels, having regard to the differential rent that would be payable by a tenant in situ to a local authority for rental of a similar dwelling. Section 6 provides that no resident of a mortgaged dwelling shall be evicted from that dwelling during the period of this national housing emergency.

Under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act, the State delimited the exercise of private property rights by public service pensioners. The Bill seeks to use the same provision in Bunreacht na hÉireann to delimit the powers of landlords to evict people and to oppress them with unreasonable and extortionate rents. The measures enacted under this Bill supersede all existing law on the matters concerned while the emergency continues, and the housing emergency formally brought into existence by this measure will continue for a three year period from enactment, allowing time for the fundamental causes of the housing emergency to be addressed. Large-scale public housing on public land is required.

Speaking at a recent seminar to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the civil rights movement, Fr. McVerry said the Government was facing a catastrophe, with the housing crisis set to deepen. He called for a major Government programme of social housing construction on a scale not seen in decades to alleviate the crisis. He said that we could have a catastrophe coming down the road unless Government policy changes. The Government’s response to homelessness and social housing was to provide three out of every four houses in the private rented sector but this sector is part of the problems, not part of the solution. Fr. McVerry said that most people becoming homeless are out because they were evicted from the private rented sector.

The Bill does not provide for the increased building of public housing on public land. If it did, it would have been ruled out of order as a money Bill. It implements measures, however, for the common good to prevent the situation continuing to worsen and provides some alleviation of the extreme distress being suffered by significant numbers of people while long-term solutions are put in place. Its passage would force the Government to accept that its current housing policies have failed and it would give an opportunity to Oireachtas Members to change the failed policies of this minority Government.

Some Deputies may have difficulty with some of the measures proposed, while others may have additional proposals. These can be discussed on Committee Stage, where detailed amendments can be tabled and discussed. I appeal to Deputies, therefore, to allow the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage. At the end of the three year period of the national housing emergency, the Oireachtas will review the situation and consider how to proceed for the common good in the context of the housing and homelessness situation at that time. Once again, I appeal to Deputies and, in particular, to Fianna Fáil and the Government, to support the Bill, which is crucial to addressing the disastrous housing situation.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill and the general topic, which is timely given that daft.ie published a report yesterday.

It demonstrated the chaos in the current rental market. Today, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, was quoted as saying that rising rents are causing much anxiety. That is a great understatement. There is sheer panic. Frustration is spilling over because of the stress experienced by individuals and households, including children. Does the Minister for Finance really understand the degree of anxiety felt by a person who faces a cumulative 36% increase in their rent over a period? This was another report on top of a pile of previous reports for each quarter going back years. Each time one of these reports is published, it details yet more rent increases. It clearly shows a sector which has been allowed to spiral out of control. The State's inactivity of building the required level of housing has contributed to the shortfall in housing and rising rents.

When is the right time to shout stop? Rents are at an unsustainably high level. The Social Democrats have called for an immediate nationwide rent freeze, but we recognise that freezing rents at such high levels will not be a complete solution - or indeed any solution - for people who are at the pin of their collar. However, it would ensure that we will not be here next quarter or the one after that to discuss the increase being 38% or 40%. There must be a point at which we say stop; we think that we reached this point long ago. Deputy Healy has been calling for an emergency to be declared on this for several years and this legislation would give some teeth to that.

I listened to the chairperson of one of the landlords' associations on radio yesterday morning. He said that it would be unfair to force purchasers of buy-to-let properties to keep existing tenants in situ. In the current situation, I fundamentally disagree. We need emergency responses. What would be unfair would be to turf out a tenant who had met all the terms of his or her tenancy agreement and force him or her either into homelessness or to face a significant rent hike at another property.

We must take a sustainable view on this. We cannot allow market forces to continuously pile people onto the streets or into emergency accommodation. That is in no one's interest. It damages the social fabric of our country but also the economy. We can see significant societal damage. There cannot be one of us here who does not experience families coming to us in panic. They tell us things like "Homelessness was never something I expected to happen to somebody like me". That is typical of what people say. When they come in first, they say they have four months notice. Invariably, one sees them in the following weeks and one tries to give them as much advice as possible and try to find alternative accommodation but it is just not there. One can see the deterioration in people from the time they receive the eviction notice to when they either find somewhere or they face having to find somewhere to store their possessions or perhaps find temporary accommodation.

We must be realistic; we are not just talking about a few people. Typically, we see couples where both are at work. We see families, individuals, ordinary workers. The average rent in Dublin is now €1,968 a month, €32 shy of €2,000 a month often for fairly average homes. We are not talking about mansions, we are talking about typical homes. It takes only a basic understanding of economics to know that if that figure continues to rise, there will be hundreds if not thousands more who will find themselves forced into homelessness.

Talking about percentages can be easy but, in practical terms, the average rent in Dublin is now close to €2,000, which means that a family or a person renting in Dublin is paying close to €24,000 on rent, before utilities, food, the cost of getting to work and other costs. Even if someone took home €50,000 after tax, which is a good income, rent would still account for more than 50% of their income. For those of more modest means, the reality is even more stark. There are people paying 60% or 70% of their income to put a roof over their head. People who run the food stalls in town say that people are coming to them looking for food who are not homeless. What does that tell us? The knock on effects for the rest of society become obvious. Greater demands on wages means less disposable income circulating in the economy, consumer activity decreases and businesses suffer as a result. That is before we begin to consider the societal and human cost of forcing people into everyday poverty, just because they are trying to put a modest roof over their head. It is also unsustainable, as the Minister knows, from the perspective of rent assistance or HAP because rents are spiralling.

The time for hand-wringing is long gone. There must be emergency measures to put a full stop on this while a more accelerated construction programme is under way. We hear that close to 10,000 individuals, adults and children, are in homelessness but that is not the full story. Others during the same year will also have experienced homelessness. In the past year, an additional 4,000 people will have had experienced homelessness and gone through that panic. Numbers are important. There is a big thing about trying not to get to 10,000 and numbers have been disputed. When we see the scale of what we are discussing, when one adds those who have experienced homelessness and those who are currently in homelessness, it can be called nothing other than an emergency. I really want it to get better and to be able to compliment the Minister and say that things are working but I am sorry that I cannot. Based on what I see, anecdotally, if I were to say if things are getting better or worse, I would say that it is far worse this year than last year. It is almost impossible to find properties for people to rent and the levels of rent that are being demanded are not possible for ordinary people.

I thank the Deputy for tabling this Bill. I welcome the opportunity to speak on housing. It is an opportunity this House has every week and we must use it because it is a crisis. It is an emergency, as the Taoiseach has recognised. I very much welcome the spirit of the Bill. It has been tabled in an attempt to help people who are really suffering. All the Deputies in this House know that people are suffering with rents they cannot afford, with insecure accommodation and a fear of homelessness, and the people in emergency accommodation of whom there are far too many. The scale of the crisis is incredible. I recognise that the spirit and intention behind this Bill is to try to help.

In the context of the rental market, the daft.ie report was published this week. We also have the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, report, which is from a larger dataset. They tell us the same story about a trend particularly in the rental sector, with rents being unacceptably high for people and putting people to the pin of their collars.

Unfortunately, the Government will be opposing the Bill. There are a number of technical complications in the drafting of the Bill that we could not support and that could not be fixed on Committee Stage. There are also a number of constitutional difficulties with the Bill. Even if we could overcome those two hurdles, concrete ideas are put forward in this Bill that would do more harm than good. There are unintended consequences that have not been properly thought through. People will come forward with an idea to deal with a particular problem or aspect of our housing crisis and it might do somebody some good at that moment but we must be aware of the unintended consequences which they have not thought of or considered that would ripple through and, potentially, cause more harm than good.

The Taoiseach has said that this is an emergency and the Bill refers to declaring an emergency. We must ask whether the absence of a formal declaration of an emergency prevents us from putting in place emergency responses. No, it does not because we have already put in place emergency responses. One example is the change in planning law. The Deputy who introduced this Bill knows the importance of planning law. I am sure all the Deputies are in constituencies where objections have been submitted in respect of different types of developments. We know the importance of the right of individuals to be able to make their observations known when planning applications are submitted and yet we have put in place an emergency response in respect of fast-track planning.

Another way we could look at the question regarding the formal declaration of an emergency is in terms of whether such a declaration allows us to do something that we are not already doing. The answer to that is "No, it could not". I have already looked at this and I have spoken to the Attorney General on this. For example, in the area of procurement law, if we could go outside of procurement, we could fast-track the delivery of housing, with supply being the fundamental issue, and get that done more quickly than at present. However, EU law in this area is solid and cannot, even with the declaration of an emergency, be ignored. That law was put in place to protect the public good because there are and can be - we have seen this in the past - negative consequences when people ignore procurement law or go around it.

Another issue is that relating to constitutional protections. Would the declaration of an emergency allow us to ignore certain aspects of the Constitution? No, it would not. This does not mean that we cannot, in the context of the Constitution and the existing interpretations of it, rebalance rights away from the individual and towards the collective because we recognise that there is an emergency, but we cannot trample on those individual rights altogether. I will provide brief examples of where we have rebalanced these constitutional rights. The vacant site levy is one such example. We have imposed a levy in respect of certain people's property - the property they own - because we care not happy with the way they are using or not using it as is the case may be. Another example of where we have rebalanced those rights is the introduction of rent pressure zones and rent caps, with the putting in place of a restriction on what a person can charge for something he or she owns. Rental reforms have been made and more will be made. These will further limit the ways in which people use property they own. We can rebalance rights in the context of the Constitution but we cannot trample on them at the same time.

The absence of a formal declaration of an emergency has not prevented us from putting in place emergency responses. I mentioned the fast-track planning process. This has seen planning approval been granted for thousands of new homes in the three-month timeframe that has been put in place. The help-to-buy scheme to assist first-time buyers is a temporary emergency response. The establishment of Home Building Finance Ireland is a temporary response which recognises the scale of the emergency in one part of our housing sector whereby small builders still cannot obtain money to build those small clusters of homes that we need built in many areas. Family hubs are an emergency response because we recognise that hotel accommodation is not suitable for families. The Housing First programme is a response to the emergency that exists and that will be with us for some time because the complexity of individual people in homelessness is one that takes years to resolve. More than 200 tenancies have been created through the Housing First programme and between 80% to 90% of the people who have taken up those tenancies have not fallen back into homelessness. It takes people out and keeps them out of emergency accommodation.

The rent caps are a temporary response we have put in place because there is not enough supply in the rental market. The housing assistance payment, HAP, is a new form of social support for people in the private rental market. It provides for a discretion of 20% above prices and a homeless HAP discretion of 50% above prices, recognising the emergency that people are facing in trying to meet their bills and the fact that rent prices are too high. Unfortunately, this means that the Government has to pay more until more homes are built. Regulating short-term lets would be a longer term measure, again recognising the fact that there is not enough housing stock. The initial response we took more than two years ago was to ring-fence €6 billion in funding to deliver 50,000 homes into the stock of social housing to facilitate the production of at least 25,000 homes in that period, and building up to 110,000 social housing homes under Project Ireland 2040. In all these measures we have taken, we recognise the emergency that exists and the severe difficulty in which people have been placed. The Government and the Oireachtas are doing everything possible to put in place supports that can protect those people in this time of crisis.

The Bill refers to the emergency continuing for three years after its enactment. I would welcome that time horizon because it recognises that this could not be solved overnight, even if we put in place additional responses. Those the Deputy outlined are quite radical and, unfortunately, unconstitutional. He refers to a three-year period that would bring us to the end of 2021, which is the time horizon for Rebuilding Ireland. The latter is a five or six-year plan that we have put in place to bring about real reform of the rental sector and introduce measures such as those relating to the cost-rental scheme. I have spoken of the number of homes that need to built and the thousands of people and families who we have prevented from entering into emergency accommodation as a result of the different programmes that have been put in place under Rebuilding Ireland. Thousands more will exit emergency accommodation during the period of the plan. The Bill refers to a review at the end of the three-year period. In Project Ireland 2040, we have already looked beyond 2021 and committed to the delivery of those 110,000 homes in the period to 2027. That is approximately 12,000 homes per year going into the stock of social housing after 2021. A huge amount has already been planned and prepared in order to ensure that when we exit this particular period of crisis, we will not fall into another crisis in the future. We will also ensure that no matter what is happening in the wider economy - and there will be shocks in the future - we will never stop the State producing homes into the stock of social housing on local authority land. That is very important.

I want to briefly go through some of the proposals in the Bill. One of its provisions seeks to prohibit evictions. We must be careful about the language used. An eviction is very different from a notice of termination. Evictions happen when people are not paying their rent or when there has been damage to the property. Evictions are enforced through the courts. Evictions are not the main source of people entering emergency accommodation but we know that one of the sources is in circumstances where notices of termination are served. In introducing his Bill, the Deputy is trying to help people and ensure that the do not find themselves in that precarious position whereby they have to find somewhere new to live. Too many people are in that situation but to put in place such a provision could dramatically reduce the supply of homes available to rent. The rental sector is a part of the solution and we have more homes in the rental sectors not fewer. We can give greater protections to renters through rent transparency, for which provision will be made in the Bill I will publish shortly. We can give independent enforcement powers to the RTB so that renters do not have to worry about their positions, the RTB will do so for them. We can give longer notice to quit periods so that individual renters will have has a greater period to find a new place to live when a notice of termination is served. The Government's new Bill will do all of these things.

This Bill before the house seeks to freeze rents but we have to consider the unintended consequences to which this could give rise and which could do more harm than good. Almost all economists agree that when one freezes rents in an economy or even in a particular geographic location, it undermines the supply of homes. People also stay in their existing arrangements and there is less movement in the market. A rental market needs movement. Two people meet each other, they come together as a couple and move from having two homes to having one and that frees up one home, or two people in a relationship fall out of that relationship and need to move somewhere else and find a new place to live. Economists who have looked at rent freezes see that this churn does not happen and that this prevents new people from entering into the market as they move to a country, come of working age or move to a different part of a country. All these things have happened. They have been tried and they have failed.

Another trend we see - and which means that rent freezes are not a social good - is that people who could afford to pay more are not obliged to do so. This means that their potential rent increases are subsided by individuals who are earning less. That is not socially desirable. It is another unintended consequence of rent freezes. However, we can and we have put rent caps in place. We have capped rent increases at 4% per annum in rent pressure zones. These have worked but they need to work better and we need to do more to ensure that this happens. The Bill I will introduce in the near future will see to that. It will strengthen rent pressure zones, make it a serious offence to be in breach of the rules relating to them and give the RTB more powers and resources to properly police them.

This Bill we are discussing also seeks to reduce all rents very dramatically. However, 70% to 80% of our landlords own only one or two properties. Many of them are accidental landlords because of the economic crash that we experienced. They need fair rents in order to be able to cover the investments they have made. They may have mortgages on second properties and those properties might be leveraged against their homes. The unintended consequences of doing what is proposed would be to undermine those people's housing security. It could make our homelessness crisis worse and it could also reduce the number of properties available to rent.

I know that rents are too high, that supply is still too low and that renters need greater protections.

We do not need to declare an emergency as a potentially tokenistic response. We can actually put in place greater protections without doing that. It is not the case that declaring an emergency would allow us to do things we cannot already do. We will do those things to fix these problems. We will do everything we can to help get people out of emergency accommodation more quickly than we already are and to prevent people from having to enter into emergency accommodation. We will do more and we will do better.

I am sharing time with Deputies Butler and Murphy O'Mahony.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank Deputy Healy for bringing forward this Bill. It facilitates the debate which allows us to continue to focus on the housing crisis and the need for a range of measures across the State and the support agencies to tackle it.

An emergency exists in the housing area as agreed by the House when it passed a Private Members’ motion declaring a housing emergency. However, the responses of the State, even at a county level, do not keep pace with the scale of the problem. Imaginative ways of tackling the housing crisis need to be found.

Last weekend, at the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland annual awards ceremony, the Dundalk manager, Stephen Kenny, used his acceptance speech not to speak solely about his achievements or the magnificence of his Dundalk winning team capturing both the FAI Cup and the League of Ireland but instead to speak about the housing crisis. The debate has truly moved from the political sphere and this Chamber to our national consciousness. Stephen Kenny stated in his speech:

It used to be people with addictions but now it is normal families who cannot afford their rent. I think it is a massive issue and the fact that it is not being treated as a national emergency, as Fr. McVerry suggested, is a big disappointment.

Stephen Kenny's remarks were putting it mildly. The housing and homelessness crisis is so serious that it cannot be used as a political football in this Chamber. If a two-page Bill was the answer to our housing crisis, I would have brought it in myself, as would have the Minister. If such a Bill truly helped the people of Navan, Trim or Enfield, I would back it to the hilt. Bills which are clearly unconstitutional, unfortunately, do nothing to help the thousands of people in real and dire need. Despite its good intentions, the Bill is unconstitutional and would not have a positive real-world impact.

We are in the midst of a serious housing emergency which threatens homeownership levels for an entire generation locked into unsustainable rent levels. Fianna Fáil supports any efforts to debate the crisis. However, we have to be clear in our policy responses and not engage in selective grandstanding. While we support the declaration of a housing emergency, the provisions of this Bill are unconstitutional and, alas, do nothing to help. The Bill seeks a three-year termination on any evictions on any grounds and arbitrarily reduces rent in the private sector. We believe the housing crisis demands a more sophisticated and holistic effort to address the private rental and social housing crisis which we face.

Over the past three years when we have debated this issue, all sides of the House have acknowledged everybody involved in the supply of housing must work together. I can never get my head around the continued agenda of the left, particularly the hard left, to come forward with policy ideas which would drive those who we require to supply homes and apartments out of the market. Amazingly, the left thinks this would have no impact. These policies would end up putting people on the streets. The left would make more people homeless not house them. Either the left does not care or it does not think how the real world works. Preventing people from being evicted because they do not pay their rent because the law protects them will have an impact on landlords. They will simply sell up and get out. Such an approach defies belief. It smacks of an ideology of a left-wing college professor I knew strutting around campus thinking the world existed purely inside the four walls of his lecture theatre. It does not.

On the policy front, the elimination of the ultimate right to evict for non-payment of rent or gross misconduct, a significant issue in the private market and council tenancies, would profoundly damage the mortgage market and any other private investment in the construction sector. Why would a developer invest in new housing units if the people who bought them could refuse to pay for them but still live in them? There are significant issues with rents. Every single Member knows that. However, we have to encourage people to build homes and apartments, not introduce madcap laws which would drive them out of the market. Neither should we drive those who finance construction away from projects. If that were to happen, then we would have a different debate in the House about construction firms and developers not being able to access finance because of such laws. Hard left Members always claim they are the only ones who can speak on behalf of families. It is as if no other Member has families in their clinics with housing issues. Deputy Healy would see the same people he has in his clinics at my clinics in Navan, Athboy or Oldcastle. We are actively trying to see proper solutions that result in people getting a key to a home not an eviction notice. I have many young couples with good incomes who cannot get a home. What they need are developers and construction companies breaking ground and building homes.

I often wonder if those in the hard left ever stand on a construction site rather than a picket line. Do they ever get up on scaffolding rather than have a sit-in? Rather than shouting, maybe they would listen to what those who actually build homes require. We all share the same goal. Bringing unconstitutional Bills to the floor of the House for the sake of a soundbite does little to address the call to arms issued by Stephen Kenny last weekend. Rather it scores an own goal.

I thank Deputy Healy for bringing forward this well-intentioned Bill. As my colleague said, however, Fianna Fáil opposes the Bill. While we support the declaration of a housing emergency, certain provisions of the Bill are unconstitutional.

The housing crisis demands a more sophisticated and multifaceted approach to address the private rental and social housing crisis we face. Unfortunately, this Bill does not achieve that. Ireland is in the midst of a serious housing emergency which threatens homeownership levels for an entire generation locked into unsustainable rent levels. Fianna Fáil supports any effort to debate the crisis. We have to be clear in our policy responses, however. We cannot engage in selective grandstanding. This Bill is unconstitutional and would not have a positive real-world impact despite its best intentions.

The Bill would declare a three-year emergency which would be subject to review at the end of the period. This emergency would allow that no tenant could be evicted from a buy-to-let dwelling, a dwelling purchased for letting purposes. It would provide that existing private rents would be reduced to reasonable levels, having regard to the differential rent payable by the tenant in situ to a local authority for rental of a similar dwelling. During the period of this national housing emergency, no resident in a mortgage dwelling could be evicted from a dwelling in which the resident resides. In effect, this would mean that a person cannot be evicted for any reason, regardless of his or her tenure type, whether rented or owner-occupied.

This could send the wrong signal to tenants for if the rent was withheld, the person could not be evicted. These measures are all-encompassing and present several constitutional and policy issues which undermine completely the stated goal of addressing the housing crisis. On the policy front, the elimination of the ultimate right to evict for non-payment of rent or gross misconduct would profoundly damage the mortgage market and any other private investment in the construction sector. Why would a developer invest in new units if those who bought them could refuse to pay and remain living there for three years?

With rent levels at such highs, a whole generation cannot save enough to own a home. While vulnerable households are at risk of homelessness, the prospect of homeownership is slipping away from an entire generation. As house prices rise at a rate of 13% per annum, wages are rising at a rate of approximately 2.5%. At 68%, the homeownership rate is at its lowest since 1971. The latest report from daft.ie sets out extremely bad news again for a sector of the market which is in deep trouble and under severe pressure. The simple reason for the continued increase in rents is the capacity-demand mismatch. There are not enough houses to go around. The news for Waterford city was particularly worrying as it has experienced one of the largest increases in rents at a whopping 19.7% year-on-year. Average rents in the city have risen to €955 per month.

There is no end in sight for hard-pressed people who are trying to pay their rents every month. The quarterly increase was 3.7%, which is unsustainable. Most people aspire ideally to owning their own homes. People earning an average income used to be able to afford a mortgage and to make the repayments on it. Unfortunately, the cost of housing now means many people find themselves renting houses, some of which are substandard, and paying more than they would have to pay to service a mortgage on the same property. With all of their money going month-by-month on paying rent for their accommodation, people are simply not in a position to put a deposit together to try to get a mortgage. Even if they have mortgage approval, it is unfortunately the case that the affordable housing market is at an all-time low. As in every other city in Ireland, demand in Waterford outstrips supply.

While it is well-intentioned, unfortunately this Bill is not the solution. There is no easy solution to the housing problem. There can be no short-term solution. All pillars must work. Local authorities must ramp up the delivery of local authority housing as they did in the past and they must turn voids over much more quickly. A 20-week period to turn over a void is simply not acceptable. By "void" I do not mean a derelict house or one that has been ransacked. A void exists where someone has left a local authority house. In Waterford, the local authority boards up such houses and it can take up to 20 weeks to place a new tenant. That is too long. There is no reason that it should take 20 weeks to do that. Any tenant to whom one speaks who is desperate to get into such a house will tell one that he or she would paint it if allowed to move in. All people want is a roof over their heads. However, there are delays in procurement which are slowing up the system. We cannot blame local authorities entirely. The Department must look at the reasons behind the length of time it takes to move from planning to delivery.

We must also look at the affordable market. Budget 2019 will go some way towards addressing this through the investment of €300 million in an affordable housing scheme which should reduce the cost of new homes by approximately €50,000. The rental sector is under severe pressure and must be strengthened. The areas of Waterford and Limerick which do not qualify as rent pressure zones must be addressed. A review of rent pressure zones is required to incorporate this new data and it must be undertaken. The review should also examine whether the 4% rental increase cap is being adhered to. It is important to look at rent controls to determine whether they are working where they have been implemented. We must also look at the areas in which they have not been implemented. We must keep landlords in the market. Of all landlords, 75% own one or two properties and most are accidental landlords. They might have inherited a house or bought one investment property. If we do not have landlords, we will not have any houses available for rent. However, rents must stabilise with equal respect between the landlord and the tenant. Longer leases are necessary and tenancies must be strengthened.

While homelessness figures in Cork South-West are not officially very high, this is due mainly to the fact that two, three and sometimes four generations of a family will live in the same house rather than have one generation moving onto the streets. As such, the figure is somewhat misleading. Even so, homelessness figures in west Cork are definitely increasing. I thank Deputy Healy for introducing the Bill. I have no doubt that it comes from a very good place. Unfortunately, however, I cannot support it. Fianna Fáil does not agree with the Bill. Placing a moratorium on rents or mortgages or in respect of any other housing arrangement is a short-term solution with no ultimate resolution. The Bill represents another ill-thought out plan which follows from many of the Minister's own plans which have come before the House in the past. As with many of the Minister's plans, the Bill seeks simply to kick the can down the road.

The measures outlined in the Bill will not house the young woman with whom my office is currently dealing. She lives on her own behind the public toilets in a west Cork town. She says it is the safest place she could find at this time. Is that not some reflection on our country in this day and age? It is nothing short of shameful. These measures will not reassure the family who have contacted me on numerous occasions distraught at having fallen on hard times. They have lapsed in their mortgage payments and are endeavouring to negotiate with the bank which is, unfortunately, unwilling to listen. The Bill will certainly not help the numerous families who have already presented to me with eviction notices providing them with a date and time by which they must vacate the properties which they call home.

The Fianna Fáil approach focuses on increased funding for social housing, new affordable housing schemes and measures to keep landlords in the market. The confidence and supply agreement has allowed us to negotiate a 25% increase in the overall capital budget. This includes funding for social housing and homelessness capital funding. It has never been suggested that the solution would be easy to find, but all Members must be pragmatic. A comprehensive long-term plan is the only way to address the issues faced by so many nationally and about which we have all spoken here tonight. Stop-gap solutions are part of the reason we find ourselves in the current housing emergency and it is time for serious action.

The Minister is a busy man and he may not be able to meet me at another time. Now that I have him here, therefore, I note that the key accountability test will be delivery. Since coming into office, Fine Gael has launched Construction 2020, the 2020 social housing strategy, Rebuilding Ireland 2016 and capital plans in 2012, 2015 and 2018. Housing cannot be used as the basis for exercises in grandstanding. Motions and announcements of things which never come to fruition should not take the place of serious policy and the investment which is needed to get to grips with the crisis.

I wish to share time with Deputy Ellis. We will take five minutes each.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I thank Deputy Healy and his colleagues for introducing this Private Members' Bill which provides the House with an important opportunity to discuss, yet again, the continuing and ever-deepening housing crisis. I support absolutely the spirit behind the Bill and while I may not agree with some of the mechanisms proposed in it, these are matters which can always be dealt with adequately on Committee Stage. I will go through those mechanisms one by one.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is right that declaring an emergency will not, in and of itself, do anything. However, if the Government declares an emergency officially and follows that declaration with emergency action, it could have a positive impact of the sort which, contrary to what the Minister said in his remarks earlier, we have not seen to date. Tackling vacant possession and notices to quit, which are the single greatest cause of family homelessness, is worth doing.

Of course, the Minister may say that vacant possession notices to quit are not evictions, but let him tell that to the families who week after week are effectively being evicted from their homes to end up in emergency accommodation. For such families, it feels like and, to all intents and purposes, is an eviction. It must be addressed. For a party to say that the Bill might incentivise people not to pay their rent or to engage in anti-social behaviour and damage their tenancy misses the point of what is being proposed by Deputy Healy. Such concerns could easily be dealt with on Committee Stage.

Rents are too high. I do not accept that a rent freeze while we are ramping up the delivery of cost rental and affordable purchase homes would be contrary to the Constitution because property rights are not absolute but, rather, limited by principles of social justice and the common good. I would like for that to be tested in the courts. When Part V was being introduced by Fianna Fáil many years ago, many people thought it unconstitutional. It was tested in the courts and - guess what - was found to be constitutional because it was rightly circumscribed by those limitations on property rights. An emergency rent freeze for two or three years would be treated in the same manner. Why not let it be tested in the courts?

On rent reductions, I do not necessarily agree with the mechanism proposed by Deputy Healy. One would end up in far more contractual legal difficulty if one tried to revise rents downwards. That is why Sinn Féin proposed a temporary three-year rent relief to refund renters to the value of approximately one month's rent, capped at €1,500. Such a measure would be a practical step to put money back in the pockets of struggling tenants and would not encounter the legal difficulties which may beset Deputy Healy's proposal. However, although he and I may disagree on the mechanism, we agree on the principle that not alone are rents too high, they must decrease.

On evictions of those in mortgage arrears, if people do not agree with the mechanism proposed in the Bill in that regard, that is fine, but let us find another way to deal with it. The difficulty is that in the private market properties which were in negative equity for a long time are now entering positive equity and it will no longer be problematic for banks to begin to ramp up voluntary surrenders under pressure or evictions. That issue must be addressed, but nothing that I have seen in recent Government policy will do so.

I listened very carefully to the MInister's remarks on the Bill from my office. I get the sense that he is on autopilot and that there is a series of remarks which he delivers when we deal with these issues, irrespective of the mounting evidence with which he is faced. He stated that the rent pressure zones are working but not working well enough. That is just not true. All of the evidence from the RTB and daft.ie indexes confirms that over a year after their introduction, they are not working. We told the Minister that they would create a two-tier rental market and we were right. We told him the exemptions were too lenient and would allow landlords to hike up rents and we were right. When we debated this issue with the Minister of State, Deputy English, he put forward the same arguments used by the Minister today, namely, that we must find a balance between landlords and tenants and avoid unintended consequences. However, not only is the Government screwing tenants, but 9,000 rental properties have been lost to the rental market since the Government put this rental strategy in place. It is not even doing right by landlords, let alone tenants. At some point, it must realise that renters cannot cope and that it must bring forward new solutions to deal with the matter.

I welcome that the Government will bring forward legislation to increase the policing powers of the RTB and we will work with it in that regard. However, the RTB will not be able to tackle the crisis by itself.

On rising homelessness, Deputy Healy and I tabled the Focus Ireland amendment to the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act two years ago but it was blocked by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. In spite of that Act, hundreds continue to become homeless because of vacant possession notices to quit. When we bring forward legislation in that regard on Second Stage in December, I hope Fianna Fáil has a change of heart and supports us. If the Minister disagrees with the wording of our Bill, I urge him to suggest amendments and support us. If we continue to allow families to be forced into homelessness because of vacant possession notices to quit, things will get worse.

The central problem is not Deputy Healy's Bill but, rather, Rebuilding Ireland, which is the housing policy of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Until that changes, this crisis will get worse. Perhaps if we started to realise that, we might get ourselves out of the hole created by those two parties.

Táim ag tabhairt tacaíochta don Bhille seo. Sílim go bhfuil sé thar am gearrchéim tithíochta a ghlaoch. I welcome the Bill and thank Deputy Healy and his colleagues for bringing it forward. It aims to acknowledge and affirm what common sense as well as the national statistics on homelessness, housing and the rental sector tell us, namely, that there has been a serious but undeclared emergency in housing and homelessness in recent years. Sinn Féin and others have brought forward motions seeking to persuade the Government to declare a housing emergency, but to no avail. It is obvious that the solutions put forward by the Government to this emergency are not working.

The crisis reflects the Government's failure through its reliance on the private sector to deliver housing. It is clear that this policy has failed and will continue to fail for as long as the Government pursues its ideology. The pandering of the Government to the private sector and its reliance on the market is something about which we should be very concerned. The Government must be more ambitious and radical and completely change its mindset. We need to build social and affordable housing in sufficient numbers. Doing so would help to control the cost of building private housing. The answer to the current lack of social and affordable housing is for the Government to give the lead to local authorities in building such housing. It is amazing that we still do not have an affordable housing scheme in spite of all that has happened. It is imperative that the Government provide local authorities with the funding to build those houses rather than being so reliant on the private sector.

On the rental sector, a recent report compiled by daft.ie indicates that rents have risen 30% above Celtic tiger rates and reached a record high for the tenth consecutive quarter. The rise in rents has far outstripped the rise in average wages. Exorbitant rents in the absence of matching wage increases put renters in a very precarious position. People are increasingly struggling to pay their rent. Many in the private rental sector or buy-to-let properties fear being made homeless. Increasingly, newly homeless families come from the private rental sector. There is a need to properly regulate the private rental market to protect against homelessness. Current rents are unsustainable and far exceed the 30% of household income considered affordable. Some rents are many multiples of that percentage. The massive State subsidies through the housing assistance payment, HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and rent supplement cost the Exchequer more than €700 million per annum. The Bill states: "During the period of this national housing emergency no resident in a mortgaged dwelling shall be evicted". That proposal should allow time to help steady the market and stop the haemorrhage of people to homelessness.

I am not surprised that, once again, Fianna Fáil has refused to back a proposal to declare a housing emergency. The principles of the Bill should be supported by anyone who realises the seriousness of the crisis we face. The private market has every interest in exploiting the emergency and no interest in solving it. Why would it solve the crisis when it has proved so profitable for it? People need rent certainty which would give stability to their lives and those of their families. With over 1,000 children homeless and the huge implications for their health, well-being and stability, surely it is time for the Minister to acknowledge this crisis. In addition, high rents are a disincentive to taking up employment in many areas of the country, particularly in many locations in Dublin. People have died and are still dying on the streets. Coming up to Christmas, many children and their families do not have a place to call their home. They do not have stability. Rather, they have chaos and instability. What will it take to declare a housing emergency?

I thank Deputy Healy for bringing forward the Bill. It is very important that an emergency be declared in the light of the current level of homelessness, the rental increases outlined in the daft.ie report in recent days and the slow pace of housing construction, particularly social and affordable housing.

It is an emergency. Nearly 4,000 children are homeless. If that is not an emergency, I do not what an emergency is. I suggest that the declaration of an emergency can be a practical and effective way of dealing with a crisis. In 2008, the bank guarantee was passed in this Chamber following a late sitting. We opposed it, but it went through. The effect of that measure was to guarantee the banks with the support of the nation. The debts of the banks were basically put on the backs of the people. If we had a home guarantee instead of a bank guarantee, would it not make a difference? Is it not more important to guarantee that people have homes than to include financial institutions, including the ones that caused all of the problem, in a bank guarantee? If we have values, surely it is more important to guarantee homes than to guarantee banks. If we were to pass a Housing Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill to accompany the various Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bills we passed in the last decade, would that not make things happen? Have we not reached a position where we need to do something much more dramatic than what we are seeing from the Government?

I fully support the principle that underpins Deputy Healy's main proposal in this legislation. While there are issues with various other parts of the Bill, they could be amended. I will refer to some of them later in this contribution. I genuinely think we have reached a point where we are in an emergency. It seems quite incredible that at a time of what is normally described as near-full employment, with a recovered economy, we still have a hopeless housing situation. We hear people using phrases that suggest things are getting better and are working, but there is no evidence in what we are seeing on the ground that this is the case. We have come to a point where we have to say that this is a housing emergency. If we do that, we can take actions that we would not take in normal times. I believe such actions are needed. We have come to a stage where we must put the right to a home into the Constitution. I know that legislation to that effect has been considered by the House. I suggest that housing must be given the central position it needs to have to become the priority of the Government and of public policy. That is where we are at and that is what we must do. We have to balance the rights in the Constitution. Private property rights are constantly trumping the rights of people to have a roof over their heads. There was evidence of that in last month's budget when Fianna Fáil happily clapped in support of measures that support developers and landlords rather than tenants and people who are trying to build a house or to afford to buy a house.

I have described the main substance of the legislation as I see it. The rent pressure zones are not working. I welcome the Minister's statement that he is preparing a Bill, although I am not quite sure what will be in it. Maybe the Minister of State, Deputy English, will enlighten us a bit more. We have rent pressure zones. According to the daft.ie report - I accept that I am not referring to the Residential Tenancies Board report - the average rent in Dublin increased to €1,968 in the third quarter of 2018. How can anybody on a low income afford almost €2,000 a month, or approximately €23,000 a year? It would take up practically their entire income. The average rent in my own city of Limerick, which is not a rent pressure zone, has increased by 20.3% to €1,151. We are constantly chasing the average. In order to attain rent pressure zone status, there must have been a percentage increase in four of the previous six quarters and the average rent must be above the national average. As rents continue to increase in Dublin, the national average now is €1,334. We are chasing that figure all the time. We will see whether Limerick city, or at least part of it, is included when the next review is conducted on the basis of the Residential Tenancies Board figures. I would be surprised if all of the city were to be included. The rent pressure zone system is based on local electoral areas, which means that part of the rural hinterland of the city is taken in as well. Unfortunately, we have been proven to be correct in what we said when the rent pressure zone legislation was going through the House two years ago, just before Christmas 2016. We all wish the system introduced under that legislation was working. We are dealing with people in our clinics every day who are terrified that they will lose their rented homes because they cannot afford their rents and are worried they will increase.

We have to protect tenants. There are measures in this Bill to protect tenants. We cannot say that there can be no evictions whatsoever. In fairness, if people have not been paying their rent for years - even in local authority tenancies - there has to be some provision for eviction. The same should apply in cases in which people are wrecking the homes they are renting. I would amend the legislation in that regard. We have already made proposals in respect of the evictions that happen when properties are sold or given to the landlord's grandson or whomever. People should not be put out of their properties for those reasons.

While I have some issues with this Bill, I agree that overall, we have reached a point where it is needed. We need to build homes. The Labour Party has proposed that €16 billion be spent over five years to build 18,000 social and affordable homes and we have said where the money would come from. It is mad to put €500 million a year into a rainy day fund. Even though we have people with no homes, we are putting money away in case we might need it in the future. Where are we putting it? We are probably investing it in something that is totally useless to us anyway. We are probably borrowing to get the money in the first place. There is no logic to a rainy day fund in the current situation. We must face up to the fact that we have a very serious problem. It does not seem to me that there is much evidence that things will improve in the near future. We are still looking at vacant homes all over the place. I got an email from my local authority today relating to a property in a private estate that was bought by the council and has been empty for six months. I was told in the email that the local authority cannot afford to do it up because it does not have the money to do so.

That is rubbish.

Obviously, there is the voids scheme. I will write to the Minister on this matter because it does not make any sense to me that the council is saying that the property in question is in a queue now for when it gets around to doing it up.

The Deputy is right - it does not make sense. It is not true.

There are families on waiting lists that would love to move into the house in question. There is something very wrong in the current situation. We have been debating these issues more or less every week and we will debate them again tomorrow. This is urgent and serious. We need much more action than we are getting.

I would like to share time with Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I want to read into the record of the House new information that comes from the Rebuilding Ireland social housing construction projects status reports for the first and second quarters of the year. They contain new information on the number of new local authority homes that were built in the first six months of this year. The total for the 31 local authorities throughout the State was 350. Reading through the list, I looked out for Cork city and saw that the total was zero. I also looked out for Cork county and saw that the total was one. My eyes were assaulted by the number of zeros on the page. The figures for Clare, Donegal, Kildare, Leitrim, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford and Wicklow were zero. Twelve of the 31 local authorities had no local authority build completions in the first half of this year.

We learned from yesterday's daft.ie report that rents nationally have increased by 11% year on year. The figure for Cork city is 14%. This shows that there is a need for local authorities to build houses. The Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government was told today by representatives of the Economic and Social Research Institute and the Nevin Economic Research Institute that Brexit will create an upward pressure on rents, particularly in the big cities. They said that the Government would be wise to ramp up the construction of social and affordable houses. This is the reality of the position.

The motion before the House calls for the declaration of a housing emergency. I do not know how that could be debated at this stage. The Minister has taken 1,600 people off the official homelessness figures to try to keep the overall figure artificially below the 10,000 mark.

We could debate whether the figure is a bit below 10,000 or a bit above 11,000. Officially it should be the higher figure. There are a heap of people who are homeless or effectively homeless who are not included in the official figures over and above that number. Did the Minister of State know that rough sleepers are not counted in the official homelessness statistics?

No they are not. We checked it at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government last week. Women living in domestic violence shelters, 5,000 people living in direct provision, people living in emergency shelters that are not funded by local authorities, and couch surfers are not counted in the official statistics. If these groups were counted what would be the real homeless rate? Would it be 20,000, 30,000 or more than that? Fr. McVerry is right. There are 500,000 people living in distress daily as a result of their housing situation.

The National Homeless and Housing Coalition has called for a national demonstration on the streets of Dublin on Saturday, 1 December. This is an important demonstration and I appeal to everyone affected by the housing crisis, by high rents, by being the locked-out generation who want to see change on this issue and who are dissatisfied with the do-nothing approach of the Government to join that demonstration in the largest possible numbers on the day.

I will begin where Deputy Barry ended in appealing to people to take to the streets on 1 December in what is the follow-on demonstration from the 3 October mobilisation outside the Dáil. It is the anniversary of the death of Jonathan Corry, who died yards from the entrance to the Dáil two years ago. Shamefully, the crisis that contributed to his death has continued to escalate. I thank Deputy Healy for putting forward this Bill calling for a declaration of a national emergency and for emergency measures to deal with the housing crisis. It is not the first time that has been put forward, yet the Government continues to vote them down and defend the indefensible failure of its housing policies that have created this crisis, particularly the NAMA policies, the abandonment of the construction of council housing when it first came into power and, more recently, its continued reliance on vulture funds, real estate investment trusts, REITs, and the private rental sector to solve a crisis that it created and that it is exploiting now, jacking up rents, evicting people and speculating on land and property.

Why should people protest? Last Monday morning in my clinic, but it could have been any Monday, Elaine came in. She has four kids. She got a notice to quit in April, being evicted on the basis of one of the loopholes that the Government failed to close because the property is being sold. She has gone through all the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, appeals and will be homeless very soon. She went to the council, which told her to find a place to rent on housing assistance payment, HAP. The limit for HAP is €1,800 or €1,900 per month, but rents in Dún Laoghaire are €2,200 or €2,300. We asked if she could get an uplift. The answer was no. She cannot even get the homeless HAP until she is almost homeless. The council has known for months but it will not give her the homeless HAP until she is about to become homeless. Months have been wasted in between. We do now have a placefinder service, but it cannot find a place because there are no places.

The next person who came in was a mother with a two year old child. She burst into tears, crying helplessly in front of us, begging us to get her out of the hub in Monkstown she has been in for the past year. She cannot take it any more, psychologically and emotionally. She was pleading with us to see if there was any way she could get out of this place.

I then got a call from a mother, distraught about her son. He is working in telecoms, he is highly qualified, and his wife, a hairdresser, is also working. They are over the limit for social housing so they applied for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme. They were refused because they cannot demonstrate the capacity to repay. They have the deposit and a clean credit record. The scheme for people earning between €35,000 and €75,000 a year does not work. The mother told me 67% of people applying for that are being refused. What the bloody hell is the point of this scheme?

That is not true.

Then the Minister of State should explain how they were refused.

The mother wrote to the Minister's office and asked him to explain this. He said it was nothing to do with him and he could not interfere. That is why we need to get out on the streets.

Tá sé thar a bheith deacair bheith foighneach le leibhéal na díospóireachta seo ón Rialtas agus ó Fhianna Fáil agus iad ag caint as dhá thaobh a bhéal. Tá sé thar a bheith deacair. Tá géarchéim tithíochta i gceist agus tá sé thar am aithint a thabhairt don ghéarchéim sin agus céimeanna faoi leith a thógáil chun dul i ngleic leis an ngéarchéim.

It is difficult to remain patient with the reply from Government and the approach by Fianna Fáil to this matter. I have no hesitation in supporting the principle of this Bill and I fully understand where the Deputy is coming from on it, as with all the other initiatives we have brought in over the past two and a half years. In a sense I am glad the Minister has left the Dáil, although I realise he is busy, because my patience has worn thin listening to him talking about not trampling on people's rights. The Minister of State, who is in the Chamber, might acknowledge that we are trampling on people's rights. There are 10,000 or more people homeless, including almost 4,000 children. I would call that trampling on their rights. The high number of people on the waiting list is increasing by the day.

The Minister talks about unintended consequences. At what stage does a sensible and rational government realise that 10,000 people homeless is not acceptable collateral damage from its market-driven policies? At what stage does it realise that if it keeps on and acknowledges that it is pouring money into the private market, it is part of the problem not the solution? Twenty-seven people have died on our streets as a result of homelessness. There are long waiting lists. In Galway the list goes back to 2002. They are the people being housed there.

The Minister talks about ideology and the far left. I have repeatedly said I am a very practical, pragmatic female politician and there is a solution to this problem. It is not the ideological left that has ideology, it is the Government, driven by the ideology that the market will provide, in flagrant disregard for the evidence that the market is not providing but is part of the problem. Fr. McVerry, repeatedly and without any agenda, has drawn to the Government's attention the extent of the housing crisis. I read in a letter written in September by 51 academics. We often accuse them of living in ivory towers but they came out of their ivory towers, including six professors, 42 doctors, an architect and a research officer with SIPTU and so on, not the hard ideological left, to tell us there is a major housing crisis and we cannot pursue the market-driven agenda.

The Government needs to step in i lár an aonaigh to be right in the middle of providing houses, to enshrine a right to a home in our Constitution. What this Government and previous ones, including, I am afraid, the Labour Party, have done is privatise and marketise houses and not look on them as homes. The first step in doing that was taken by the Labour Party and Fine Gael in respect of HAP. They said it was the only game in town and, unfortunately, it is, but there are no homes in Galway available under HAP.

The Department is setting weekly and annual targets for the local authority to move people from rent supplement to the HAP. There are no HAP houses. On my desk I have a letter from somebody whose supplement has been stopped and who cannot get a HAP landlord. The individual is in a house but the landlord does not want to enter the HAP scheme. The individual is in receipt of no payment. This is what the Government's policies are doing. The Government is not declaring an emergency, as was mentioned already. An emergency was declared in respect of the FEMPI legislation and the guarantee for the banks. Incidentally, the banks we bailed out are not loaning developers any money now. The Government had to set up another quango and another level of bureaucracy lately in order to loan money.

This legislation may have practical difficulties but they can all be sorted out with the appropriate amendments. What it is doing is asking the Government to recognise an emergency so appropriate steps can be taken to restore the balance. We clearly need landlords but the biggest landlord should be the State. We praise and follow the European Union in many areas and want to be the best boy and girl in the class but we will not follow the European Union on social housing. We will not look to Austria or to other good examples of a very high rate of public housing. We need to send out a message to the market that the Government will provide homes for our people. Pending the construction of those houses, which should be done on a multi-pronged level, involving small builders, co-operative housing bodies and all sorts of steps the Government is not taking, there has to be a freeze on rents. The proposals in this Bill can be suitably amended.

Galway city has the biggest housing crisis in the country. It has the biggest homelessness problem. We have land but need more. The land we have in public ownership, at Ceannt Station, the docks and elsewhere, is not subject to a master plan. I have pointed out repeatedly that the approach is developer-led all over again. The city should have no housing crisis, yet its problem is the worst in the country.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak this evening. I have no doubt that at this stage almost everyone in the country is aware that our housing and homelessness situation is at crisis point. This Bill seeks to declare the housing and homelessness problem a national emergency. In March of this year, the Taoiseach stated he had no problem describing the housing shortage or the homelessness crisis as an emergency. Can the Minister of State, Deputy English, state why we are still waiting for this to formally happen? Circumstances have only got worse since March, not better, and action needs to be taken.

I am blue in the face begging the Government to take action. We need it. There are 11,304 people homeless. Of these, many are children. Focus Ireland has reported that 193 additional children became homeless in September of this year. This is heartbreaking. These children need to be given the security of having a place they can call home with Christmas less than six weeks away. It is unthinkable that almost 4,000 children have almost no home for Christmas. Last year, we saw on the "Late Late Show" a lovely young girl who was homeless and living in cramped conditions. This year, it is sad to say the housing and homelessness crisis is no better.

Currently, there is a vicious cycle, with people being evicted from their homes by private landlords due to their properties being sold or repossessed. The footfall in my office of young people unable to secure mortgages is considerable. I believed the Rebuilding Ireland scheme, launched earlier this year, was going to be the answer to all my prayers to have young people able to secure a mortgage but we know that there has been a 50% rise in homelessness.

I will certainly support this Bill. I thank Deputy Healy for introducing it. I am very disappointed Fianna Fáil is not supporting it tonight.

I, too, am delighted to support this Bill, introduced by my colleague from Tipperary. I thank him for the work he put into it.

The Taoiseach said he accepts there is a national housing emergency yet the Minister responsible for housing, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, who is not here tonight although he should be, has reportedly undermined confidence in his homelessness statistics by ordering earlier this year the removal of 1,600 people from the housing data. The Government is playing with figures. The Minister must be the seventh Minister responsible for housing in the past two Administrations. One is worse than the next. It is like the "Magnificent Seven". The Government must be the Underwhelming Seven. AK-47, the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, was firing blanks in my constituency. They are all firing blanks and have lost the will to build houses. They are not building and will not allow private builders to do so. It will not give Home Building Finance Ireland the necessary powers and will not give people who can build them loans. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett mentioned the issues we all encounter every day. People earning between €30,000 or €35,000 and €70,000 cannot get a loan. They cannot go anywhere. A measly three people were approved in the previous scheme in Tipperary, and I believe nobody was approved under Rebuilding Ireland. What an inept and unsuitable title. The Government does not have the first iota as to how to build. It is not because it is not able or because the private builders are not able; it is fundamentally because of Fine Gael, supported by Fianna Fáil. Fianna Fáil was always the party of building houses so I cannot believe it will not support this Bill tonight. I am not saying it is perfect but it can be amended and nurtured as it passes through. The Government, however, is in hock to the banks and Europe and does not care about the people who have no houses. It has a fundamental ideological blockage regarding allowing people to build houses themselves. I know of ten couples in south Tipperary who want to build their own houses. They have their own sites and can get the loans but the authorities will not give them planning permission under the so-called plans associated with Project Ireland 2040. There are those who want to buy houses but they cannot obtain approval for a loan. The Government is pushing paper from Tipperary up to Dublin and down again and over to the west, and back around six or seven different places in the Department. The Government is doing nothing and should hang its head in shame. If it is not going to build houses or let somebody else build them, it should get to hell out and call an election.

I declare an interest in this matter so nobody will be able to say I did not. I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this because every one of us is dealing every day with young couples and young mothers who are trying to do their best for their families and put a roof over their heads. One of the saddest things one has to deal with is young people who cannot find or afford accommodation.

There is one point I will not agree with or pander to. I am not talking about Deputy Healy or anybody in particular but am referring to when I hear people continuously criticising people who own property and rent it out. There is nothing criminal about that. There is nothing wrong with it. In many instances, those people are really struggling themselves to try to keep on top of bank repayments, rent out a property, keep it in good condition and pay their taxes. Every Minister knows that if those people were not in the market and taking a chance, there would be total chaos in this country. Admittedly, one could say it is their private business, but what are they guilty of? They are guilty of doing work and trying to improve their lot. There are Members here denigrating landlords, calling them this and that, and asking about this and that as if landlords were pariahs or doing something wrong. They are respectable people who are just earning a living. They are doing it by the book. That is a difficult job. To brand landlords as unimportant is not acceptable because they are bloody well important. If they were not doing what they are doing, the homelessness crisis would be much worse because the Government is not doing enough.

If Deputy Michael Healy-Rae owns houses, I suppose I have to declare an interest because I am his brother. I am thankful for the opportunity to talk about this important topic.

I do not believe the Government when it said funding would not be an obstacle. I believe it is. I have my reasons. I have spelled them out here at different times. We have nearly 40 or 50 people waiting for rural cottages to be built. The people have their own sites but the local authority does not have the funding or the ability to give them the green light.

With regard to social housing, the Department is holding matters up. There are four stages of approval. Private developers are finding it very hard to gain access to funding. There are so many levies and obstacles to be overcome.

I am aware of one developer who is trying to start building houses for a voluntary housing group. The process has been going on since the summer with one thing after another. If it is not Irish Water requiring matters to be dealt with, there is duplication between the local authority and all the other agencies. There are so many problems. The Department is also involved. There is so much red tape. One would have the houses built while there is all this paper and pen pushing. Something must be done to unblock that.

In addition, funding must be made available to private builders. There is a shortage of supply. People are complaining about the cost of rent and how rents are increasing. The lowest rent in Killarney is €1,300 per month. People cannot find that type of money. It should also be realised that the Government is taking 50% of what most of the landlords are getting in rent per month. They are paying 50% tax and something must be done about that if we want rents to decrease.

I am glad of the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I understand the spirit behind the Bill and what Deputy Healy is trying to achieve. We have had a number of debates previously and this is a genuine attempt to deal with the issue. We do not agree with some of the measures in the Bill because we are not sure they will achieve what the Deputy is seeking, but I understand and accept the spirit of what he is trying to do. All of us want a rental sector that works and gives people a chance to have a home and rent a property at a reasonable cost that they can afford. That is what the Deputy is seeking and I support his sentiments, but we do not agree that implementing what is in the Bill will resolve the issue.

It is repeatedly said that declaring an emergency will solve the problem. To be honest, if any of us thought that declaring an emergency would increase housing supply tomorrow, we would declare it. Why not? However, declaring an emergency will not provide us with even one extra house tomorrow or two or three months hence. It does not change anything. We recognise the emergency here. It is a difficult situation. That is why we have committed taxpayers' resources to a structured, funded plan that has a timeline and can deliver. We started it over two years ago. It is a five-year plan and it is ambitious. We want to deliver a minimum of 10,000 social houses per year. That is the magic figure everybody is seeking. We will reach it by next year because we started our plan two years ago, not yesterday or next week. Two years ago we recognised the importance of putting taxpayers' money behind the plan and implementing it.

Members of the House demand 10,000 and 20,000 houses, but somebody must do it. That is up to the Government. The Government must set the policy and secure the money from the Department of Finance. People's hard-earned money that is handed over in taxes is being spent on housing. That is our job. We spend it through all our partners and stakeholders, such as the local authorities and the NGOs, which draw down approximately €60 million of our taxes every year to spend on homeless services, building houses and so forth. The local authorities are in charge of the housing delivery programme and are implementing it. We have ensured they have teams of people with the skills they need as well as the funding. They can now build houses. It is absolutely wrong to come to the House week after week and insist that the Government is not building social houses. It is just not true. I have no problem with having debates on housing every day and every week in the Dáil, but there must be honesty in the conversation.

There were calls tonight for people to pile onto the streets and join the march. I listened to most of the people who spoke at the last march. They were students, members of NGOs and other groups, members of unions and so forth. The common thread in the different demands they made on that march was that the Government should start a social housing building programme. That was the first demand. Second, they said that entailed 10,000 social houses per year. It is clear from the record of the House for anybody who wishes to check the debate that this is exactly what the Government is doing. We started it two years ago. There was a commitment of taxpayers' money through the various policies to deliver 10,000 social houses per year. We are doing exactly what everyone is calling for in their speeches. We put it in place two years ago. We recognised that one cannot just decide that if one wants 10,000 houses tomorrow it will happen. One must start somewhere.

We started two years ago and put in place all the changes that were required, including cutting the red tape, allocation of resources, putting all the teams together and engaging with the private sector, public sector, local authorities, approved housing bodies and anybody who cared to work on this. That is what had to be done. We engaged with all of them in a structured plan that we track every week and month through the officials in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and other Departments. As we track it every week we can say with confidence that next year we will reach the magic number of 10,000 social houses delivered per year, which everybody is calling for. We will reach it next year because we started two years ago, not a week or month ago. We put the plans in place to make it happen. That is our job. I must say there was cross-party support for that. Everybody wants to achieve that and nothing less. Some want more, which is fair enough. However, every week the Members come to the House and claim it is not happening.

Some €2.4 billion in taxpayers' money has been secured and ring-fenced for housing for 2019. It is the highest ever spend on housing. The taxpayers need to know their money is yielding a result. Members all agree to spend the money so they must admit at some stage that we are opening real houses across all the sites each week. People are moving into them. Week in, week out the Members repeatedly say that I, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Department are doing nothing. It is not true. The Minister, the Taoiseach, the Department's officials and I have no problem admitting that the number of people who need a house is extremely high. It amounts to thousands. Of course, it is an emergency. Nobody is denying that. We count them and present the figures. We are not hiding that. However, there should be a little honesty. Taxpayers deserve honesty and to realise that their money, which amounted to €2 billion last year and will be almost €2.5 billion next year, is doing something and is delivering houses.

People also tell me it is a hopeless situation. That is unfair to people who are homeless and who need to know they will eventually get a house. It is unfair because the facts do not support the people who say it. In the last 16 months, 7,000 adults and their thousands of children left homelessness and are in homes today. Next year, thanks to the taxpayer, the money allocated will deliver 10,000 social houses and 19,000 other social housing solutions through HAP and so forth. Over 5,000 adults and their children will also leave emergency accommodation and will not be homeless this time next year. That is the reality. That is our commitment because we know we can do it. We have done it for the last two years. Nobody is denying that a homeless situation is not a nice place to be and is absolutely no place to raise a family. A hotel, family hub or the like is not the place to be and nobody should be left there. It is our job to ensure people come through that system as quickly as possible and into a house. It is wrong to say it is hopeless and it is not fair to those people. They must have some hope. They are entitled to have hope because money is being spent to provide solutions for them. The NGOs and people such as Fr. McVerry are part of the solution. They are all getting taxpayers' money. It is being channelled in a proper, co-ordinated way and is delivering results.

We know the process is not happening fast enough. Every day we try to make it faster. We change the system and try to push it as much as we can to deliver more houses. It is delivering houses. It will deliver the magic number of 10,000 that everybody wants next year. The combination of 6,500 builds, long-term leasing and acquisition will bring us over the number of 10,000. Everybody continues to say that this Government is against social housing, but we have committed the country to providing up to 12,000 social houses per year. That money is committed over the long term under Project Ireland 2040 and the ten-year capital plan. We are repeatedly told that we are ideologically opposed to social housing, but we are the only Government to have committed the resources to make it happen. It is wrong for Members to come to the House week after week and say that we have a problem with social housing. It is not true and I take great offence at it. It is our job to ensure that people get a house and a home, be it social housing, affordable housing or private housing. It is not true to say that this Government is against social housing. If that was the case we would not allocate €2.4 billion of taxpayers' money for it next year. We would not do it with the support of Fianna Fáil and the Independent Alliance. We would spend the money somewhere else.

I have no problem coming to the House and listening to the Members demand more.

That is fine if Deputies were to come to the House with new ideas and solutions that might work. We would take them all on board, but this constant coming into the Chamber and saying nothing is happening is not fair on the poor unfortunate families who are struggling tonight, stuck in emergency accommodation and want to get out of it. They are entitled to know that in the next year most of them will leave emergency accommodation and we have done this in the last year. When we analyse the figures, we see that the social housing stock increased by 7,000 last year and 8,000 this year and will increase by 10,000 next year. These are the figures that give people hope. They are factual. There are more than 1,000 social housing projects that were not in place two years ago. They are in the system at different stages of delivery. It is my job and that of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Department to work with the local authorities and the approved housing bodies to make sure houses are delivered, week in and week out. That is happening.

When we go to housing projects and meet people in their homes, some of them tell us that they had been waiting for a house for eight or nine years on a housing list. Others tell us that they were homeless for three, six or eight months. Everybody has a different story to tell and taken a different journey. They are on that journey and coming through the system. We know and admit that there are thousands of them. We put out the figures for genuinely good reasons; we do not hide them. Thankfully, the majority stuck in emergency accommodation tonight will spend less than six months in it. Do not get me wrong; it is six months too long, but two years ago they would have spent two or three years in emergency accommodation. Thankfully, most are now offered a solution quite quickly. Not everybody chooses a solution or the one they are offered does not suit them in the long term. There are different reasons and we must constantly work to find better solutions.

I will make a final point. Yes, in the short term we have to work with the private sector through the HAP scheme and so on. On a daily basis, however, we are adding new social housing. It is a five-year plan and by year three or four we will have tipped the balance by using more new social housing, rather than relying on the private sector. That is to what we are committed in the longer term. One cannot resolve a social housing supply issue in year one. For many years the country did not deliver enough social housing. The only way to fix that problem is by having short and long-term plans that over a period of time will genuinely increase the social housing stock by 50,000 by 2021 and 12,000 social houses each year thereafter in the next ten years. Then we will be able to say we are at a European level in the provision of social housing. Let us not kid people. We cannot just draw houses, demand them, call for them and hope they will arrive. One has to physically do it site by site, county by county, to make it happen with real money, real people and real ambition and plans. That is what we have done as a Government and that is what we are committed to doing.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me time to speak on this issue.

After all of that, will Deputy Healy, please, respond and summarise?

Not only is the Government's response to the Bill deeply disappointing, it is absolutely disastrous for the 500,000 people affected by the housing and homelessness emergency. We have heard it all before from the Minister and the Minister of State. Phrases such as "live horse and you will get grass" and "believe in your own propaganda" come to mind. The fact is that everybody associated with the homelessness issue in the State knows that Government policy is not working and that it has been an absolute dismal failure. Not only is the Government's policy a failure, Fianna Fáil's policy is also a failure. Fianna Fáil's policy is the policy of Fine Gael and the Government. We have had crocodile tears from Fianna Fáil on vulture funds, mega landlords and developers. I remind it that putting faith in developers, vulture funds and mega landlords is the policy that created the housing and homelessness emergency today. It is time to change it by supporting the Bill.

The Bill is fully constitutional. The measures proposed and the policy outlined in it are specifically outlined in Article 43.2.2° of Bunreacht na hÉireann. The very same principles were used by the last Fine Gael-Labour Party Government in the introduction of the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation. The question of delimiting private property rights in accordance with the Constitution has been upheld by the courts in respect of Part V of the Planning and Development Act. Citing constitutional difficulties is the last resort of politicians who have failed on all other arguments. That is the fact of the matter. The Government has failed in all other arguments and is now attempting to use the Constitution as an excuse for the absolute failure in this policy area.

I have another criticism. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, said that declaring an emergency would not build a single house. Of course, it would not build a single house and nobody has ever suggested it would. I said quite clearly in my introductory remarks that the Bill was specifically to ensure the situation did not get any worse. Everybody involved at the coalface in dealing with the housing and homelessness issues knows that the situation is getting worse and that if we do not take significant and serious measures, it will continue to get worse. As Fr. Peter McVerry said, we will have a housing "catastrophe". The Bill is simply to ensure the situation will not get any worse and give an opportunity to the Government to build social and public housing on public land. That is its effect.

We have been told that the Bill will worsen the crisis, but that is patent nonsense. It is patent nonsense from people who represent the wealthy in our society. The Bill will definitely reduce the price of dwellings and not before time. Even if some landlords did sell, the dwellings would still be in place. That would improve the situation because people would be in a position to buy cheaper dwellings. Landlords who were willing to make a moderate profit could buy. It would also repel the vulture funds that are part of a global demand that artificially drives up house prices and rents to exorbitant levels. The Government has encouraged this global demand with tax and other incentives. Housing should not be a commodity. In any civilised society there should be a constitutional right to housing. Only today in the Irish Independent we find that mega landlords are using the housing crisis to obtain massive rents through Government-sponsored rental support schemes. The country's largest private landlord, Ires REIT, has almost trebled the number of State-funded social tenancies on its books. The company which recently announced profits of €19 million for the first half of the year stated it had 303 tenants who received State help under the housing assistance payment scheme. This equates to 11% of its total portfolio of 2,678 rental units. This compares with just 4% of its properties being rented to tenants in receipt of State support in 2017.

It has also been claimed by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, in The Sunday Business Post that completely banning the eviction of mortgage holders would raise mortgage rates for those who did pay. His response is typical of the thinking that created the housing and homelessness crisis.

If there is any threat to the profits of vulture fund, banks and super-rich investors, the Minister immediately declares the Government's intention to allow the banks, finance houses and vulture funds to transfer the burden onto another section of the population. This is despite the fact that the declaration of an emergency in this Bill would give the Government and the Minister all the powers they need to prevent such an occurrence. That is why Members of the Oireachtas must take a hands-on approach to addressing the housing emergency.

The Minister implied that most people would not pay their mortgage without the threat of eviction. That is an insult to the vast majority of mortgage holders. The Minister seems to be prepared to allow mortgage companies to punish compliant mortgage holders for the crisis created by successive Governments, including this Government. This is an emergency. We are facing a catastrophe, as Fr. McVerry said, unless normal commercial rules are set aside. Already, the Government has allowed mortgage rates far exceed the European average. According to the latest figures from the Central Bank, the average interest rate issued for new mortgages in August of this year was 3.15%. This compares with an average rate of 1.77% across Europe. This means Irish mortgage rates are 78% above the European average already and mortgage holders here, who already contributed to the national bailout of banks, are now bailing out the banks a second time. This simply must be stopped. The declaration of an emergency would allow the Minister to prohibit any increase in mortgage rates and enable him to reduce current mortgage rates to average European levels.

This Bill is absolutely necessary. We are experiencing a disastrous housing and homelessness emergency, which needs to be addressed. The evidence tonight is that the Government and Fianna Fáil are not prepared to address it. However, the public will address it. They turned out in massive numbers on 3 October when more than 12,000 people protested outside the Dáil. A further march, which will be reminiscent of the marches on water charges, has been organised by the National Housing and Homelessness Coalition for 1 December. I call on all those involved in housing and homelessness, particularly those affected by the issues and those on the front line, to attend the march and send a very strong message to the Government and Fianna Fáil that this emergency must be tackled head on. An emergency must be declared. The Bill should be allowed to progress. I appeal again, at the 11th hour, to the Government and Fianna Fáil to allow it to go to Committee Stage where it can be considered and amended. I urge them to allow it to progress to address the disastrous situation in housing and homelessness.

Question put.

In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 15 November 2018.