Housing Solutions: Statements

This is the second discussion on housing this week. This is an important issue and there is no harm in taking this opportunity to go back over some of the information we discussed earlier in the week and to update the House on Rebuilding Ireland. Unfortunately, a great deal of misinformation was given out during the week. It was disappointing to hear inaccurate and generalised commentary from colleagues across the floor. For most people, the solution now is about politics but we would also like to discuss policies when it comes to housing and housing solutions. Many of the speeches of Deputies did not go near policy and focused only on politics, which was a strange approach.

When good, sensible ideas are put forward we will try to tweak Rebuilding Ireland to include them. We have differences of opinion on certain areas such as large sites, but in other areas where we can address quirks in the system, we will do so. For example, two or three weeks ago, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan requested funding for Traveller-specific accommodation. We took on board that idea and we will spend funding in this area to buy houses. We are willing to listen and change when sensible evidence-based proposals are made. However, much of the commentary in the past week has been unclear. It is disappointing that some Members chose to use the challenging and difficult circumstances that some families and individuals find themselves in to score political points, rather than put forward solutions that can help those households who are experiencing homelessness and housing issues.

As I said on Tuesday evening, Members have made suggestions and expressed ideas here and there and some have proposed legislation. Our job with regard to Rebuilding Ireland was to produce a whole-of-Government plan that brings all Departments together. As with the approach taken in the Action Plan for Jobs, Rebuilding Ireland includes a list of actions that must be taken. I accept that Members have proposed various interventions and ideas but no one has produced a complete plan which, site by site, makes things happen on the ground. It is all very well having nice suggestions and ideas. One Fianna Fáil Deputy said we should build 50,000 houses next year, as if one could pick them out of the sky. It does not work that way.

Deputy McDonald claimed she had the most ambitious plan for social housing. When we add up all the figures in that plan for the next ten years, it is not as ambitious as the Government's plan. Let us have full plans and let us fully tease them out. If the Opposition wants us to scrap our plan, it should produce a full plan of its own, rather than bits and pieces. Somebody has to pull all of this together and the Government has done that. I accept that Deputies have different ideas but they should come up with a full plan if they want to scrap our plan or if they think our one is not working.

I would like to clarify some of the factual inaccuracies we heard earlier this week and discuss the homeless, about whom the Government is concerned. We are doing our best to deliver Rebuilding Ireland. I did not get a chance to say on Tuesday night that we accept that there are far too many people in an emergency situation without a house. There is no denying that. We publish the figures. We do not hide behind them. We do the rough sleepers count and so on and we put the truth out there. It would be easier to hide from homelessness but we do not do so. No one denies that the figures are far too high. In some cases, we cannot intervene quickly enough, which is a great shame because it means some families and children are left in emergency accommodation, which is not ideal for anybody. None of us would like that. We are not trying to claim everything is rosy in the garden or that there are no issues. As of today, more than 1,700 families need homes. The quicker we can address that, the better. I cannot be any clearer.

At the core of Rebuilding Ireland is the objective of accelerating the delivery of social, affordable and private housing, while also supporting families and individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness or who may be at risk of homelessness in the future. What is different now compared with three, four or five years ago is that we are able to intervene much quicker and families are asking for help much quicker. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, some families did not know they could come forward and get help, for example, in negotiating with the banks or dealing with their landlords. The position has changed and families now notify us much earlier if there is a problem and we can sometimes intervene to prevent problems arising in the first place. That did not happen in 2013, 2014 and 2015 because the State was not equipped or ready for it, if the truth be known, and funding was not available either. People became homeless quickly in those years. We may have been able to prevent homelessness in many cases if we had been able to step in at an earlier stage but, thankfully, we do that now and it is making a difference with regard to some of the numbers.

We have been working tirelessly to rebuild sufficient capacity in the housing market. As 2019 draws to a close, it is an opportune time to outline the progress that has been made and to inform the House of some future areas of priority action. Addressing homelessness continues to be a key priority for the Government and the Department in particular. To say that is not the case is crazy. Why would it not be a key Government priority? No sane person, on any side of the House, would want anybody to be in homelessness. Deputies should stop telling me the Government is ideologically opposed to helping or to finding solutions. We are not and no sane person would be. Of course we want to help. The Government wants to do all it can on this issue. It is our number one priority and it is silly give the impression that it is not.

We are working closely with local authorities and our NGO service delivery partners to deliver solutions for those individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Many of the NGOs, which have much to contribute, work closely with the Department and the local authorities in providing housing solutions and services. They do a good job and I accept that they also have a role as advocates.

A lot of them are working with us and I compliment their work alongside our local authorities and housing bodies. There was an impression given in some of the speeches here on Tuesday that local authorities are not responsible for housing and that we are trying to move away and make it all about housing bodies. I have gone to all the local council chambers and made it very clear that it is not the case. Local authorities are front and centre to this. I compliment the difference they have made over the last two years when they have been given the chance to do this. They have come a long way to reach their targets and to drive a new pipeline of projects. Naturally there is always pressure on them to do more and we will constantly ask them to do more but compared to where we were three years ago, when there was probably less than a couple of hundred social houses, now it is up at over 10,000 this year by a combination of all the different schemes as well. Local authorities are driving that. If any housing body wants to bring a housing project forward it is in conjunction with a local authority. It is either with one or under its instruction, and is also linked back to our Department. It is not a case that they are leading the way. Local authorities are in charge. I want to be clear on that. Nobody on our side has any doubts about that but there is a lot of confusion being spread about it on the other side.

While we are unfortunately seeing more individuals in emergency accommodation, it is worth noting that between October 2015 and October 2016, the number of individuals in emergency accommodation increased by 34%. The reason I give that figure is to try to show that a couple of years ago the figures were going up by 30%, 40% or 50% a year. We do not see that now. They are still far too high and we have had a couple of months where the number of people in emergency accommodation has gone up. That is really disappointing. However, the figure is not jumping in the way it was jumping by 30% or 40% in a year. That means we are beginning to make the right progress and the trends are going the right way. It is not quick enough but we have to stop the acceleration first and then try to bring it back down and eventually end it. The increase was 30%, 40% or 50% in some years. I think even at one stage the number of children in emergency accommodation went up by 54% in one year. Thankfully last year it was 1%. That is still not enough but it is a major point of progress that we are trying to build on as quickly as we possibly can.

The quarterly performance reports published by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, show that more adults, families and their children are moving from homelessness to a home and the rate of exit is increasing. In the first nine months of this year, 4,389 adults along with their children left homelessness and moved to a home. The figure is 17% higher than for the first nine months of 2018. I am not saying it is enough but it is a big difference on last year, which was a big difference on the year before. If we keep going with those trends we will eventually get on top of this. That is what we are trying to do here. In Dublin, where 75% of families experiencing homelessness are located, 786 families moved from emergency accommodation to a home in the first nine months of this year, which is a 50% increase on the same period of 2018. I repeat, in case there are any doubts, that I am not saying this is enough but it is a big difference. If we can continue to do that and repeat it again in the next 12 months, we will go a long way to solving this. Nearly half the families presenting to homelessness services in the Dublin region were found a home without ever having to enter emergency accommodation. I made that point recently in debate. Four or five years ago, if 20 families became homeless, more than likely all 20 of them would enter emergency accommodation and would be there for a long time. That is what was happening. If 20 families present today, for ten of them were are immediately finding a solution and a home. That is a positive. Sadly, the other ten will still go into emergency accommodation but only for a number of months whereas a couple of years ago it could have been two or three years. That has all changed. Any time spent in emergency accommodation is too long; I want to be clear on that. However, it has come down a lot which means we are beginning to be able to react and find people a home much quicker, which is a positive development. We need to keep doing that and more of it. We can do that because the supply of housing has increased. That is key. Behind all this is the need to have a supply of housing, social, private and affordable. Over the last three years, over 12,000 adults have left emergency accommodation with their children. This year it will be over 5,000 and next year it will be the same again with the money allocated. That is an important part. People in emergency accommodation need to realise and have a little bit of hope that there is a way out of this and it is not going to go on forever. Thankfully the majority of people who are in emergency accommodation will be out in the next couple of months. The difficulty and the sad part is that every week the presentations are just as high again. That is the difficult part here. The rent controls and changes that were brought in in May and June of this year will make a difference and help reduce the number of people presenting. When we analyse the data on those who are coming forward, it is roughly 50-50 whereby half are due to economic, rent or finance issues and the other half has to do with social issues and so on. We have to intervene in different ways for both. Those rent changes should help with one category.

When it comes to rough sleepers, no person should ever have to sleep rough. This has been a key priority of the Government and it is why over 350 new emergency beds were added this year in the Dublin region to the other 800 emergency beds that were put in place as Rebuilding Ireland was published. Last week, an official winter rough sleeper count was carried out and a total of 92 persons were confirmed as sleeping rough across the Dublin region that night. There were plenty of spare emergency beds in the region that night and shelter was available to any person who wished it. There is no lack of capacity to offer somebody an emergency bed who is sleeping rough. For different reasons people end up sleeping rough and we have to intervene every which way we can. The most important part is that there is an emergency bed for them which, again, is very temporary. They can then progress through the system to a more permanent bed. The services are there. There are new people running that service in the streets of Dublin and they are out every night trying to engage with people and encourage them to come in. There is capacity now and rightly so. That capacity is in every other county throughout the country as well. At the summits and meetings every week, we ask local authorities how quickly they are able to move people through the system and so on. We get the feedback and know that in most cases people are in emergency accommodation for quite a short period in most counties. In Dublin, Cork and Galway there is a little bit more pressure but in the majority of cases they are able to intervene quite quickly because they use all the different schemes.

People kept saying to us last week that we should not have the housing assistance payment, HAP. If they do not want HAP, that is fine. I will accept they do not like it, on the condition that they tell me where they would house 48,000 families that are using the HAP scheme today. We all know it is not the most perfect scheme long term.

That is what we heard five years ago.

We would like to have more long-term solutions but while we are building the new houses - we are now at the stage of over 10,000 a year - people need houses today. They cannot wait for the social housing delivery next year. That is why we use the HAP scheme. If Deputies do not like it, they might show me a better scheme in the short term.

Building houses.

I am sharing time with Deputy Troy. In all fairness, the Minister of State is now asking us to come with a full housing plan. Everybody on the committee has worked with the Government on major pieces of legislation to progress through this House. We have also presented 13 Bills. It is wrong to say we are not part of the solution. We have been part of the solution. That should be recognised. I also must recognise the protest outside the Dáil today on homelessness.

Most of my contribution will be about homelessness. I refer again to a proposal that was made by our committee and indeed legislation that was proposed by Fianna Fáil regarding the impact short-term letting platforms are having on the availability of homes which could provide a solution to the homelessness crisis. I was the first Deputy in this Dáil to raise the issue at the committee in 2016, with the then Minister, who clearly indicated that he declared a potential conflict of interest because he used a short-term letting platform for a holiday. He also indicated that he did not believe it was having a significant impact on the availability of homes for homeless people. At that time, we had 1,078 families and 2,026 children homeless. At the very same time, there were thousands of entire homes and apartments available on short-term letting platforms. The committee worked and prepared a detailed report on the impact the short-term letting platforms were having on the housing market. Fianna Fáil introduced legislation around the short-term letting platforms. We can clearly see that they are having a significant impact. In fairness, the Minister introduced regulation of the platforms on which we worked with him. However, all he introduced was a definition of a short-term letting platform and he was using the planning process to deal with it. I clearly said at the time that this will never work. It is now proven that it will not work. The amount of resources required to surf the Internet every day to try to establish how many properties are available for 90 days or more is almost impossible to reconcile. Figures obtained through freedom of information show that only 4% have applied for planning for short-term lettings and there is 0.3% enforcement. Clearly that process is not working.

I pointed out at that time that what was required was the regulation of the short-term letting platforms, not the properties. Until we regulate them, we will waste resources and energy trying to get on top of this. If we had regulated the short-term letting platforms, they could have given us the detailed information that we require to use the 90-day definition that is in the Planning and Development Act, but we do not have that. I have always spoken about a whole-of-government response to the housing and homelessness crisis. I have raised it with the Minister at the Joint Committee on Housing Planning and Local Government. We need the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to bring in the regulation for the short-term letting platform from a tourism point of view, but there is no interest there. Where is the whole-of-government response? It does not exist, yet the Minister of State is looking to us for plans to resolve the housing crisis.

The latest homeless figures are 3,226 children, a 74% increase since June 2016, and 1,733 families, a 61% increase. At the same time here in Dublin, last night, there were 9,512 properties available on one short-term letting platform. Out of those, 4,790 were a whole house or apartment. What will happen this Christmas? There will be 3,826 children living in hotel rooms while 4,790 entire homes or apartments will be available for tourists or visitors. It is not rocket science. The mathematics are quite simple. That is one of the solutions we have been working on with the Government over recent years that has not been taken into account.

The Minister of State should take no comfort from the fact that the Minister won the vote on a motion of no-confidence on Tuesday night. The vast majority do not have confidence in this Government and we know why it won the vote. The figures released a couple of days ago once again revealed an increase in the people who are housed in bed and breakfast accommodation, hubs and hostels but they do not take into account the number of people sleeping on our streets or involuntarily sharing, that is, couch-surfing. The Minister of State said today that there is no limit, that anyone on the streets can go into their respective local authority and get bed and breakfast accommodation. That is not the case because there are budgets set for every local authority. The Department is breathing down their necks telling them to try to keep below their budgets. That is a fact. I help people day in, day out, referring them to Westmeath or Longford county councils, which are being told by the Department that they are restricted in what they can spend. Either they are telling lies or the Minister of State is telling lies here in the Dáil this evening.

As a long-standing Member perhaps Deputy Troy might find-----

Either they are misleading or-----

I can confirm-----

-----the Minister of State is misleading the House today.

If I may speak very briefly, I am absolutely clear on this. There is no limit or cap when it comes to providing shelter for a homeless person-----

The Deputy must accept the Minister of State's word.

-----on any local authority.

I accept that and I will take-----

The Deputy can take it back now.

I will take it back. I welcome that because heretofore people were told they got only a certain number of nights, that they had to find alternative locations, and if they did not, they were out. That is fact.

Despite what he says, the Minister of State is not listening. He is seeking suggestions and is not listening. If he does not believe me, maybe he will take the word of his colleague, Deputy Durkan. If we can believe what is said in the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party meetings, he said the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is not listening. If he is not listening to his own backbenchers, what hope is there for us on this side of the House? There was to have been an increase in the threshold from €2 million to €6 million, but for one full year the Department has prevented that change from taking place. If the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport thinks it is all right to allocate the roads budget at the beginning of the year and leave it to the local authorities to spend it, why is it not okay for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to do the same at the beginning of the year and leave it to well-paid directors and competent staff to spend that money efficiently during the year? That would reduce the need for going backwards and forwards to the Department, which wastes much valuable time.

The Minister of State has repeatedly promised to revamp the tenant purchase scheme. That has yet to happen. Despite promising and repeatedly saying in replies to parliamentary questions that it is imminent, it has not happened. If that was changed and tweaked, it would facilitate people and enable them to purchase their own houses. The Government could use the funds raised to ring-fence and reinvest in new housing in the required area. The thresholds for people on the local authority housing lists are far too low. They are unacceptable. Anybody on a minimum wage, earning little money, does not qualify for local authority housing. For example, one of my constituents who has five children and works is renting a house. He gets up every day and goes to work. He is paying €700 a month to rent and can just about manage. The house has been sold and the cheapest he can rent for now is €1,200 a month. There is no support for him. He is considering giving up work and going on the dole to avail of schemes. That is not right. There are no supports for people like him. The Department has failed to review the thresholds.

We are still awaiting an affordable housing scheme, which was promised more than 18 months ago, and according to replies to parliamentary questions that I have received, there is no intention of bringing an affordable housing scheme to Westmeath. There is a huge need for it in my constituency. Turnkey developments are welcome, but the manner in which they take place is not open or transparent. I raised this at a meeting with the senior executive team of the Westmeath County Council, which the Minister of State attended, last Friday morning. Local people are unaware of a turnkey development coming into the area. There is no proper or adequate mix of social and affordable housing and there are no plans to change that. Nobody can aspire to own their house in an approved housing body because they are prevented from doing so.

In his opening contribution today, the Minister of State repeated what he said in responding to the motion of no confidence in his senior Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, namely, that the Opposition has come forward with bits and pieces of solutions but there is no master plan. On the one hand, that is patronising, while on the other, it is arrogant because it suggests that this Government has a master plan and a strategy when it is quite obvious to anybody in need of public and affordable housing that this Government and Rebuilding Ireland have failed. Even when the Taoiseach and the Minister get to their feet they acknowledge that we are not building enough homes and that there is a problem with supply. To put it back on the Opposition by saying that we do not have a plan but the Government does speaks volumes.

The Minister of State is wrong when he says we do not have a plan. I have brought with me copies of the plans we have produced to educate the Minister of State and show him that we are busy providing solutions. One is What is the True Level of Homelessness?

I have read the so-called solutions.

I did not interrupt the Minister of State. Another is Achieving Energy Efficiency in Housing. Others include a Part 8 proposal on social housing units in Deputy Ward's and Ó Broin's constituency, Reforming the Private Rented Sector, Regulation of Short-Term Letting Platforms, Review of the Tenant Purchase Scheme, and a comprehensive alternative budget, which I will go through in a second, setting out what needs to happen, and which is a much more ambitious plan than anything the Government proposed. There is one on Waterford and a policy document on what is needed in my constituency. Just in case all of that is not enough, our housing spokesperson wrote a book on housing to set out the challenges and the solutions for the Government. I will donate this to the Minister of State as a Christmas present-----

I have a signed copy.

I hope he will read it and learn from it because it is quite obvious to me that he has not read any of the policy documents or the solutions that have been brought forward. He is trying to complicate something that is very simple.

We do not need big policy documents to understand the obvious, namely, that this State is not building enough houses. There are families that we all represent who cannot afford to buy their own home because there are not enough affordable homes. How many debates have we had in this Chamber? People are sick to death of politicians debating housing. Week after week we get policy statements on housing. We need to build the bloody houses that people need. It is the Government's job to do so. Fine Gael is nearly eight years in government but it has not done its job. For eight years it has used the excuse that it needs more time but the people who need homes do not have time; their lives are passing them by. Children are stuck in emergency accommodation, week after week, year after year. What kind of Christmas will they have? We in this House are lucky. We and our children are fortunate enough to have proper homes but many people do not. That is who we, collectively, are failing. The Government does not need big plans. It needs to put money into building public and affordable housing but as long as it does not do that, it is ideological. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil stopped building public housing and left it to developers and landlords. It is all about HAP and RAS, with hundreds of millions of euro being spent in the private rented sector and precious little being spent on public and affordable housing. It is shameful.

The Minister of State came in here today and attacked the Opposition for not putting forward solutions and claimed that we do not have any. I am proud of my party's housing spokesperson, the work he has done and the solutions he has put forward. However, I do not have confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government or in this Government. I do not believe that we will have any solution to the housing crisis as long as Fine Gael is in power, or Fianna Fáil for that matter.

We are having this debate because there are solutions to the housing crisis. Sinn Féin has solutions, as do the people protesting outside the gates and other Opposition parties in this Chamber, but Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will not listen. My office, like those of other Deputies, is inundated with people looking for help in securing homes or preventing eviction into homelessness. It is absolutely heartbreaking. My colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, has stood in this Chamber time and again putting forward solutions to end this crisis only to have them voted down or for Fianna Fáil members to sit on their hands and abstain. I will now remind the House of some of our solutions.

Sinn Féin in government would dedicate an extra €1 billion to build social and truly affordable homes. We would implement a rent freeze and give the equivalent of one month's rent in the form of a tax break back to renters every year. We would prevent landlords from seeking more than one month's rent on top of a deposit. We would introduce the so-called Focus Ireland amendment, as well as a homeless prevention Bill which would stop renters from being evicted into homelessness by putting in place a 60-day homeless prevention plan before anyone loses his or her home or tenancy. We would hold a referendum to give a constitutional right to a home. Sinn Féin would bring down rents and build homes because there is no other way to end this crisis. Most of what is said in this House is no more than window dressing.

I wish to speak about one issue that arises for people affected by the housing crisis, namely, the draconian practice of self-accommodation. The recent report from the Joint Committee on Children and Youth Affairs on the impact of homelessness found that families who are self-accommodating have to find their own emergency accommodation. They are not able to access vital supports such as a case worker who can assist them with the daily challenges of homelessness and more importantly, support them in getting out of emergency accommodation. On the face of it, the term "self-accommodation" suggests giving people ownership, autonomy and a choice about getting a roof over their heads but the reality on the ground is quite different. Last Christmas, parents were asked to vacate their hotel rooms, with their children in tow, to make room for tourists. This pattern was repeated on St. Patrick's weekend and other holiday periods throughout the year. Christmas 2019 is just around the corner. I have had families with young children in my constituency office in Clondalkin. They have all of their personal belongings with them and no means of transport, apart from public transport which some cannot afford. Above all, they have no idea where they will spend the night. The whole day is spent on the phone ringing hotel after hotel and trying to source accommodation. I have witnessed the stress this causes parents and the trauma their children go through. I have seen hope disappear from their children's eyes each time they are told there is no room at the inn. On one occasion a couple with three children used my phone over an eight-hour period trying to find safe and secure accommodation for the night. Eventually they were successful but they had to get two buses to get to the hotel in question. After eight hours of stress, these tired and worn out parents and their three exhausted children had to bring all of their belongings on two buses and cross the city just to have a roof over their heads for one night. This is unacceptable.

If we are to be judged on how we treat our most vulnerable, we are failing badly. Self-accommodation must end and every assistance must be directed to those who need it. I will be raising this matter directly with the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

I will begin by supporting Deputy Ward's call for an end to self-accommodation. It is one of the most difficult aspects of homelessness for children. There are almost 4,000 homeless children in the country and the idea that they do not know where they will be from one night to the next is appalling. During last night's no confidence debate I referred to a study conducted by the Royal College of Physicians which describes the negative effects of homelessness on young children. It is really heart rending but the situation is even worse for those whose families are self-accommodating. In that context, I published the Housing (Homeless Families) Bill some time ago which went through pre-legislative scrutiny at committee. The committee wrote to me to say that it was recommending that the Bill would proceed. The Minister was given five weeks to respond to that recommendation and give his views on proceeding with the Bill. It is my understanding that the five-week period is nearly up. While it is not going to solve all of the problems of homeless families, it does address the fact that at the moment children are treated as dependent on adults. There is no recognition in law of the rights of children who are homeless. They are simply treated as dependants of homeless adults. If that Bill was enacted, the practice of self-accommodation for families would have to stop. Indeed, other measures like sending families to Garda stations, which happened in Dublin, would also have to stop. It is a small measure but it could make a real difference to the lives of children. The Bill has been through Second Stage in this House and is with the committee. It cannot be moved forward until such time as the Minister responds. I ask the Minister of State to revert to me with information on the status of the Bill.

There are now more than 10,500 people in homelessness. In my own region of the mid-west, an additional 42 people are listed as homeless in Clare and Limerick, 21 of whom are children. I know some of the families involved and some are large families. I have made the point in previous debates that we must start to provide accommodation for larger families because a lot of the children who are in homelessness are from such families. It does not matter how homes are sourced, only that they are found for larger families in order to get those children out of homelessness. It is difficult enough being homeless with one or two children but homelessness with four or five children must be absolutely horrendous.

Not enough is being done in respect of vacant homes.

There are still many vacant homes around the country. Although there are vacant homes officers in local authorities, many of them have other roles within the housing departments in addition to trying to activate vacant homes. In Britain, there is far more focus on finding out who owns vacant homes and getting them back into use. That needs to be done here. Many empty residential properties are in private ownership. I established the very successful voids scheme in local authorities when I was Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, but there remain many vacant privately owned home. In some cases, there may be issues relating to the fair deal scheme that need to be addressed such that it is possible for families who have a relative in a nursing home to allow the person's property to be rented out. That needs attention because it is an opportunity that is not being taken.

I refer to the issue of using public land. I do not have with me the Labour Party policy document entitled Affordable Homes for All, but I presume the Minister of State has read it.

I had it with me on the most recent occasion we debated this matter. The Labour Party has proposed the provision of 80,000 social and affordable homes over a five-year period at a cost of €16 billion. Our document outlines from where the money would come. On the use of public land, I am convinced there is an ideological policy that requires local authorities to use the majority of their public lands for for-profit private housing and not even the so-called affordable housing, which is just made available at a percentage of the market rate. I was sent a link to a contribution by the CEO of Dublin County Council, Mr. Owen Keegan, in which he clearly stated that the council was not allowed to use public lands solely for public housing.

That is the case on large sites.

We need clarity in that regard because there are many tracts of public land for which the council could very quickly put out a tender for one or more builders to come in and get on with using the land. I ask the Minister of State to address that issue in his reply.

Many Deputies have referred to the Ó Cualann model whereby a voluntary co-operative housing association has been able to build affordable homes in Dublin because the council gave it the land at a nominal price and the various levies and so on were not charged. Surely that model could be used far more widely on publicly owned land. On social mix, people in need of affordable housing could also be accommodated by models such as Ó Cualann. They have significant rents and cannot get a mortgage but are above the income limit for local authority housing, as mentioned by another Deputy. I wish there was movement on these issues and that these models were being used.

I acknowledge the comments of the Minister of State on Traveller accommodation, on which there has been some progress. However, statistics indicate that local authorities are still not spending the money they are allocated for Traveller-specific accommodation. A significant number of Traveller families are still living in totally unsafe and tough situations, and that needs to be addressed further.

I support Deputy Casey on short-term letting. My colleague, Senator Humphreys, regularly speaks on the issue in the Dublin area. He knows the issue far better than I do as it is not as big a problem in my constituency. We need proper enforcement to ensure planning applications are submitted by those letting properties on a short-term basis because they are displacing people who would otherwise be able to rent the properties as their home. That issue needs to be looked at.

On rent freezes, Deputy Ó Broin introduced the Rent Freeze (Fair Rent) Bill 2019 on First Stage today. The Labour Party very much supports the Bill. Now is the time to bring in a rent freeze. The 4% increases in rent pressure zones are being added to totally unaffordable rents. We have reached a point whereby rents are so high that people with reasonably good jobs and, in many cases, two salaries simply cannot afford the rents that are being sought. They have no security in their rented accommodation but cannot raise a deposit to get a mortgage because they are paying so much in rent. They are in a catch 22. A rent freeze would be of assistance in that regard while we await what I hope will be a ramping up of the construction of homes.

This issue has been discussed many times in the House, often on Thursday afternoons. No Deputy wishes just to talk about the matter. We all want to see something happening, more homes being built and, in particular, the number of homeless people declining rather than rising as it has been for months on end. Deputies have put forward practical proposals. All my comments have related to practical proposals, as have those of other Members. The difficulty is that things are still moving at a snail's pace. In the meantime, many people in the rental sector are stuck in the horrible situation of not knowing when they will lose their home, while many young children and their parents are facing into Christmas living in very precarious situations in hotels or hubs. We need to find solutions quickly. A protest on the matter is taking place outside Leinster House and I hope it will make a difference. What will really make a difference is action, construction, and measures to ensure that people do not lose their homes in the first place.

I will be sharing time with Deputies Paul Murphy and Coppinger. I have just come from the protest to which Deputy O'Sullivan referred. My apologies for being late. It was organised by the people who voluntarily have been out on the streets helping the homeless night in, night out in recent years because they are so appalled by the escalating housing and homelessness crisis. They have presented proposals to which I hope the Government will listen.

The scandalous housing and homelessness crisis results from one central factor in Government policy, namely, that it has facilitated the greed of vulture funds, landlords, property speculators and property hoarders. That is at the core of this crisis. The Government claims that the Opposition criticises but does not have alternatives. It is a dishonest claim and we wish to set the record straight. It is worth noting that before any motions of no confidence were tabled, People Before Profit and Solidarity, on behalf of the protestors, called for this debate on housing solutions. We have presented our solutions many times. I will reiterate them for the Minister of State.

The councils need to provide 20,000 public and affordable housing units on public land each year for the next five years. The Government must immediately stop the sale of public land through public private partnerships, the Land Development Agency or any other privatisation mechanism where such land should be used for public and affordable housing. The National Asset Management Agency's, NAMA's, remaining land assets and cash should be deployed to the provision of affordable housing, which should be genuinely affordable for those on average incomes. In addition, we should give more resources to co-operatives and approved housing bodies as well as increasing the Part V requirement for private developments to at least 20%, which should be taken upfront in land to be built on by the State rather than waiting for developers to decide when they will build.

There should be an immediate rent freeze and an end to evictions on the grounds of sale, which is the main reason people are going into homelessness. There should be genuine rent controls, as is the case in the rest of Europe, to pin rents to affordable levels. There should be punitive and escalating vacant site and property taxes to prevent speculation and hoarding by property developers and to bring empty properties back into use. Local authorities should have and use aggressive compulsory purchase powers to take over land and property that is lying vacant. There should be a constitutional right to housing for all.

A minimum of an extra €2 billion a year should be put into the provision of social and affordable housing. That money should be raised by a levy on the profits of landholders and speculators, closing down the loopholes the Minister has given those speculators, using NAMA's cash and using the money in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. If this council housing was built, it would generate income for the State rather than the State paying out €700 million on RAS, HAP and other leasing arrangement payments.

In addition, as an essential measure the Minister should raise the income thresholds for social housing to the income levels of ordinary working people who are currently being lopped off the list. That will give the social mix required. Real supports should be given to people who are in homeless accommodation, particularly children so they will not suffer the child abuse and neglect they are currently suffering.

I have just left the protest taking place in front of and at the back of Leinster House. Those who organised the protest are ordinary people who have jobs and plenty of things to be doing. They have done far more through their activity and organising to address the housing crisis than this Government has done, even though that is supposed to be its job. To give a warning to the Government, the protest today reminded me of the early stages of the anti-water charges movement. People's anger is overflowing at both the lack of action on the part of the Government and the reality of policies that serve the interests of landlords and developers.

The protesters gave me a series of demands - a young man handed it to me - which I was asked to outline to the Dáil. Their demands are: that the crisis be declared a national emergency and be treated as such by the Government; the immediate resignation of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy; a national emergency liveable full-time unit to be set up immediately for those who are on the streets at present; dramatic change to the homeless accommodation in place. They call for an end to one-night only beds and rolling beds, to be replaced with 24-hour short-term beds. They further demand: that an immediate, feasible rent cap be put in place, be it permanent or temporary, to protect people from evictions; HAP be granted before the lease is signed and that tenants should be under no obligation under the Data Protection Act to declare to landlords that they are accessing the HAP scheme; the recommencement and continuation of the building and supply of local authority housing and affordable homes; and full disclosure of NAMA-owned properties and the net worth of those properties and lands. They call for Irish courts to protect consumers' rights under EU law in mortgage arrears cases and to assess mortgage documents for unfair mortgage terms.

The protesters wish to see a forward way of thinking adopted and changes made. They demand to see the participation of Members and that homelessness be treated as a national emergency, first and foremost. It is a serious crisis that does not just affect the homeless but also mental health, the health services, emergency services, the education system and across the board. It seeps into every aspect of society, seen and unseen.

People are hanging coats on the Ha'penny Bridge at present. A message has been left with them which says, "If you need one then please take one ... If you want to help, please hang one up". People are so desperate and hopeless about Government solutions that they are using self-help and working class solidarity as the only way to do something. The same solidarity has thousands of people marching and assembling outside the Dáil today and put this debate on the agenda.

Each time the figures are cited the Minister automatically talks about all the people who have exited homelessness. It is like asking for the figures for cancer incidence and being given the numbers of people who have been cured of cancer. It is a ludicrous set up. The Minister has been told on many occasions about the families, their plight and their suffering. One family I was dealing with was sleeping in a car in the Phoenix Park. The wife and daughter had their periods at the time. There was a woman with six children who were using two sets of bunk beds and a double bed. They were in that situation for well over one and a half years, despite the Minister of State's guff. There are families living on takeaways and going to community centres to do their laundry.

Given the anger among the public, I would not like to be the Minister of State facing into a general election. I believe he underestimates that anger. I salute the people who organised today's protest. It is very similar to those of the early days of the water charges in terms of it originating from the ground. I appeal to them to have further demonstrations in the new year. I appeal to the trade unions in particular. This is a workers' issue and they must come out of their slumber and take it up.

In terms of solutions, we have the land. Mr. Mel Reynolds has highlighted this fact for a number of years. Some 114,000 houses could be built on State lands. We have the money. We have the highest number of high net worth individuals and the Apple tax money, if only the Minister would take it. However, neoliberal capitalism is preventing public solutions. It is better to waste taxpayers' money on the HAP and give it to private landlords. Many people are becoming homeless for a second time under the HAP scheme, including a woman I met recently.

I can offer an example from Dublin 15. Fingal County Council says that 200 children from the Blanchardstown area will be in bed and breakfast accommodation over Christmas. That is a gross underestimate but, even so, it is an appalling figure. Why is that happening at a time when Fingal County Council has 90 acres of land sitting empty and undeveloped in Damastown? Our councillors and I put forward a plan. The council has agreed to build on the land, but nothing has happened. Why is that? The Minister of State says there are buckets of money available if people need it. Why has the Church Field site, as the council now calls it, not been built on yet? Why is the council saying it will start with 70 houses? What is happening now is that 20 houses are being built here and ten houses are built there. When I was growing up, one lived on a council estate of 400 houses. There was none of this 20 here and 20 there.

We must see public homes being built on public lands. It will not happen under this Government as obviously it is in its dying days. There must be a water charges or repeal the eighth amendment style movement to force Fianna Fáil - it has the same policy and all its spokesman could talk about was Airbnb, which is a little embarrassing - and Fine Gael to build public homes. It is the obvious solution.

"Some days I don’t even want to wake up because I don’t want to face this day ... I am tired in school. Some days I would just sit there and not even smile". This quote is from a ten year old girl who is living in a family hub. Hubs, of course, are Fine Gael’s housing solution for every region of the country. A position paper by the faculties of public health medicine and paediatrics in the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland on the impact of homelessness and inadequate housing on children’s health was published last Tuesday and it included that quote from the ten year old. It also included other quotes, statistics and truly shameful findings about the health impacts of homelessness and inappropriate housing on children. The paper in question showed that children kept in temporary accommodation for over a year "are over three times more likely to have mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression". Dr. Julie Heslin, the lead author, has observed that delaying action is detrimental to children and stated: "We know that the impact on a person’s health and wellbeing of adverse experiences in childhood lasts well beyond childhood and becomes apparent in adult life as mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety and relationship difficulties, as well as physical disease, such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes." That is a shocking judgment on the Government's housing policy of the past nine years.

Like my colleagues in Solidarity-People Before Profit, I warmly salute the people who have taken the time today to march through the streets to demand, for the umpteenth time since 2008, that urgent action be taken on the housing crisis. I have asked the Minister several times when he expects equilibrium to be reached in the Irish housing market, that is, when supply will equal demand in such a way that all those seeking to purchase or rent properties can do so at reasonable sustainable prices, mortgages and rent. The Minister cannot tell me because he knows the Irish property market has always been a dysfunctional, rigged market. Recently, I saw an interesting RTÉ programme on YouTube. It was from 1964 and in it a famous journalist, Mr. John O’Donoghue, was questioning tenants in dire accommodation in central Dublin and families moving into new homes in the then new suburb of Finglas. It is clear there was a housing crisis in Dublin at the time and, despite the creation of the three new towns of Tallaght, Clondalkin and Blanchardstown, that crisis has continued in one form or another up to today.

Even when the level of housing construction high at some points in the 1970s, 1980s and 2000s, there were still lengthy housing lists and people in homeless accommodation.

Of course, since the crash, under the watch of this Government, the crisis has accelerated. The core reason was the almost total withdrawal of the State under the Ahern-PD-Green Government and the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government from direct housing construction and provision. They foisted Tory Thatcherism on our people and they have left 10,500 or 11,000 of them homeless today. The housing needs of our people were left at the mercy of stop-start land hoarding and massively greedy developers, property and estate agents and landlords. It is a corrupt industry, a rigged industry, and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have sustained it. Very often, both parties were funded by that industry. We have ended up with 150,000 families and citizens on housing waiting lists or on HAP or RAS tenancies, and with 7,000 homeless adults and almost 4,000 homeless children. Those are the late October figures and the Government would not even give us the statistics on the current situation. These are shocking statistics for the second wealthiest country in Europe, with Luxembourg the only country above us, and one of the four or five wealthiest countries on this planet. It is shameful. It is not just Deputy Kate O'Connell who should be apologising over the behaviour of the Government in housing and health in particular.

Over the years, like colleagues on this side of the House, I have submitted many possible housing solutions to the Government in my submissions to public consultations, in my annual pre-budget submissions and in many speeches and representations. I have also introduced my own Private Members’ Bill on a constitutional right to housing, the Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2019, which is still on the clár of the Dáil. The purpose of the Bill is to begin the process to allow for a referendum to be held for the electorate to decide on the insertion of a right to housing into Article 45 of Bunreacht Na hÉireann. The wording put forward in the Bill reads: “The State recognises the common good as including the right to adequate and appropriate housing and shall guarantee that right through its laws, policies and the prioritisation of resources, with particular regard to children.” With the support of the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers and the excellent Oireachtas Library and Research Service, we decided to put that wording into Article 45, which sets out the directive principles of social policy, because we thought even this Government might accept it and run with that Bill.

The genesis of my Bill comes from a long-standing, deep concern about the housing crisis and, in particular, the increasing numbers of children experiencing homelessness, especially from 2014-15. In 2011, there were 641 children experiencing homelessness and, under the watch of this Government, the figure has increased almost 500% to just under 4,000 this year. Without excluding other cohorts of people experiencing homelessness, my Bill explicitly states there must be particular regard to children, given the longer-term impacts of homelessness on them.

In 2015, four and a half years ago, I sought a meeting with the Ombudsman for Children because I saw how bad the problem was becoming at that time, with young mothers with children coming into my office and my mobile clinic, shaking with the fear at the prospect of being evicted and becoming homeless. I met the Ombudsman for Children, Dr. Niall Muldoon, in that summer of 2015 and made a complaint to him about the treatment of homeless children. I met the Children’s Rights Alliance before it travelled to the UN and submitted its third and fourth combined parallel report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to highlight the treatment by the Government, and by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil in particular, of the homeless children of this country.

Like other Deputies, I link in often with the CEOs of Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council, my two local councils, and other local housing officials in regard to vacancies and upcoming projects. At present, it is like swimming in treacle given the projects are so slow. As Deputy Mitchell will know, sites that were to be built through Dublin City Council direct build, and where the building was to start in the summer of 2017, only started a few months ago, for example, at Burnell on the north fringe of our constituency.

In February of this year, I brought forward a Dáil motion on homelessness, which passed Dáil Éireann with the support of colleagues, which I deeply appreciate. It summarised the approach of myself and my colleagues in the Independents 4 Change technical group. I called for the Government to declare a housing emergency and implement the necessary emergency measures to urgently address the crisis, to hold a referendum on the right to housing and to commit to rehousing families who have been in emergency homeless accommodation, including hubs, for 18 months or more. We know that in Sweden people are only allowed to be in that type of accommodation for a day or two, and they are then moved into at least HAP-type accommodation or direct provision by the state or the city council of Stockholm or other cities. The motion also called on the Government to commit to rehousing all other families experiencing homelessness by the end of quarter two of 2019, to limit the use of hubs and emergency accommodation to three months maximum and to increase supports to schools in areas with large populations of homeless families. We have heard lots of complaints from teachers during the past couple of years, for example, when we met the INTO and other trade unions, about the impact on homeless children of trying to cope with school life in many local area schools. The motion also called for free counselling for all families and children experiencing homelessness, should they wish to avail of the service, an increase in the number of available emergency beds and single rooms in dry hostels, and the extension of the Housing First programme.

Above all, on behalf of my Independents 4 Change colleagues, I asked for the creation of a national housing executive or a number of regional housing executives to align closely with the Land Development Agency and local authorities to begin a massive programme of direct build social and affordable homes on public or compulsorily purchased acquired land - whatever we have to do - with the elimination of developers from those sites, and with a target of at least 35,000 social and affordable homes per annum. This is the minimum we need to start digging into those lists. I still meet people who have been on housing lists for ten, 12, 13 or 14 years, as well as people who, in desperation, having being thrown out of private rented accommodation after eight or nine years, must then wait a minimum of two years. The number of people in emergency accommodation for over two years is deeply shameful and is outlined in the statistics we have been belatedly provided with. The approach we advocate is based on the fundamental principle that, as the great Gene Kerrigan has said, housing is too important to be left to the developers. We should have learned that lesson.

The current epidemic of homelessness, which has been created by Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Fine Gael Independents, is the shameful result of the commercialisation of housing and tenancies, and the sustained policy decisions to make housing and renting unaffordable and unattainable. I agree with colleagues that this will be a huge issue. All families, even those not directly impacted, are going to feel the Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil approach and their housing market ideology, which is clearly preventing the State from addressing the massive demand for new affordable and social housing. The Minister of State's party and its coalition partner have a blind faith in private market developers. They have barely delivered 20,000 homes per annum when we know we need a minimum of 150,000. Only a massive programme of direct build by local authorities under a regional or national housing executive, working closely with the new Land Development Agency, will deliver. If the Government does not do that, there will be many of us on these benches after the general election who will be prepared to implement that kind of programme.

The topic is "housing solutions". I have spoken about a housing solution in the House on a number of occasions, that is, a rural or regional relocation scheme whereby families in areas of high pressure are offered the opportunity to relocate to an area of lower pressure. In rural Ireland in particular, there are many towns and villages that have a large amount of vacant property which could be brought back into use and brought to a level that would allow families to relocate and to revitalise those towns and villages throughout Ireland. What we are missing in rural Ireland is people. There is a flight from the land. Many people on housing lists in high pressure areas would have a connection with a rural area, regional area or town and could be offered, voluntarily of course, the opportunity to relocate to such towns and villages.

This would be a far less expensive way of accommodating them. When we consider the rents that are demanded in high pressure areas and the rents available in low pressure areas, there would be a huge saving to the State. It would require an inter-agency approach between the Department and the local authorities but, surely, there is a mechanism whereby people could be offered the opportunity to relocate from housing lists or emergency accommodation into accommodation which is available in rural towns and villages.

In Newmarket-on-Fergus, there is a proposal to build 52 private houses and 18 council houses in a village which has 48 vacant properties. It makes no sense to go through the planning process, and all the hoops and hurdles that have to be overcome, to build housing estates like that and to put in the infrastructure to support those estates, when there is a village that has the capacity to provide 48 houses, apartments or other dwellings for people who wish to be housed within a village, county or region like that.

This is replicated right across the country. I am sure there are villages in the Minister of State's constituency, as there are in every Deputy's constituency, where there is a substantial amount of vacant property. These towns and villages are losing their vitality and sustainability and their shops, services, post offices and Garda stations. The whole fabric of rural communities is beginning to unravel, yet there is a huge amount of vacant property in these towns and villages which could be offered to people - on a voluntary basis, of course - if they wished to relocate within the county or region or nationally. The Peter McVerry Trust is now extending out beyond Dublin. It is looking into areas such as Ennis, where it is acquiring property and can provide accommodation for people who wish to relocate. It would provide the wraparound services to help support people relocating. There was a rural resettlement scheme in the west over the past 20 years but it did not have wraparound facilities and supports to accommodate people who were relocating. They were generally left to their own devices. Some remained but many did not, purely because they were put out in the middle of the countryside without supports. What I am talking about is revitalising towns and villages and introducing a relocation scheme. It might only solve 2% or 3% of the housing crisis, but when people move into rural towns and villages they become a major asset in their revitalisation. It makes no sense to build council houses or private houses in a village or town which has many vacant properties. A relocation scheme should be used to the maximum.

Pillar 5 of the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness reads: "Ensure that existing housing stock is used to the maximum degree possible". Pillar 1 relates to emergency accommodation and reads: "Provide early solutions to address the unacceptable level of families in emergency accommodation". The first pages of the Government's plan refer to how it will deal with this. The plan states that by mid-2017 emergency hotel and bed and breakfast-type accommodation for families will only be used in limited circumstances and will have been largely replaced by suitable permanent family accommodation through the delivery of additional housing solutions, including an expanded rapid-build housing programme. Will the Minister of State tell us in his reply, if he is to reply, where that rapid-build housing programme is? Has it come to an end? Is it no longer being pursued? The same pillar states that targets for tenancies to be provided by Housing First teams in Dublin will be tripled and that the housing-led approach will be extended to other urban areas. Where is this action? Has the Government delivered on it? Finally, under the same pillar, the plan states that additional supports will be provided to tackle the complex needs of homeless people, including those with dual diagnosis, in other words, those with mental illness and drug addiction. That is a major problem, which has also been addressed by Peter McVerry, but where are the Government's solutions to it?

I will repeat what I said in the debate on Tuesday night. Public lands should be used for the public good. In the health committee and in the Sláintecare report we have said public money should be spent for the public good in respect of our hospital and health services. This also applies to housing solutions. Public land should be used for the public good because the private market will not solve the public housing crisis. It is slowing down the provision of social housing. It will most likely be a more expensive way of providing social housing and is unlikely to solve the problem.

We now move on to the Social Democrats and the Green Party. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

I am sharing time with Deputy Healy.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I said much of what I wanted to say today on Tuesday evening. On numerous occasions - during Leaders' Questions, Topical Issue debates and debates on motions and legislation we have introduced - I have outlined some of the things we believe need to be done. It is hugely disappointing that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Murphy, did not pay attention to what many of us in the Opposition had to say, which was very clear from his remarks the other day. It appears, though, that it is not just Opposition suggestions the Government has been ignoring. The Minister of State's parliamentary party meetings are not especially confidential, and reports today about the most recent meeting show that there are obviously concerns about this issue within his own party.

One thing we believe is absolutely essential - we have been saying this for several years - is the delivery of a housing agency, a delivery agency, with proper, powerful teeth and targets in place, not the weak Land Development Agency that has been established. Project management of public landbanks is crucial if we are to achieve affordability, which will be the critical issue. We should accumulate more landbanks and prioritise public landbanks for housing that is affordable to buy or rent. We should allow approved housing bodies to borrow off the Government's balance sheet. We had some of the approved housing bodies before the Committee of Public Accounts and they were very optimistic about what they could deliver and where they could source the funding. They believed there was a sizeable amount they could do in terms of a different type of offering. We need to develop and properly fund an affordable purchase scheme. Whereas the Central Bank is renewing the policy it has been pursuing, and no one wants people to get further into debt, there is no doubt but that people are paying multiples in rents over what they would pay in mortgage repayments. The central issue is that we drive down the price of delivering houses. We should urgently design and adequately fund a cost-rental scheme such as the Vienna model. I am sure many others have talked about this. I am trying to be in the Committee of Public Accounts and here at the same time so I have not heard all the debate. We should implement a nationwide rent freeze. This has been done in Berlin; there is absolutely no reason we cannot do it here. It should be done and should have been done years ago.

The housing assistance payment was introduced as a short-term measure. Some of us were very critical of it when it was introduced and said that unless there were an accelerated housebuilding programme, it would not work or would become the de facto housing solution. It is not even working. I do not know whether there is even much point in saying that today because I have said it in a Topical Issue debate and on Leaders' Questions. There is a wait of about 12 weeks in my area, and I know mine is not the only one, even to administer that. It is becoming even more difficult for people to source accommodation with the housing assistance payment. We need to abolish all special tax benefits for REITs and the so-called cuckoo funds. The kinds of communities they are building will be transient. There is no commitment to this country; their only commitment is to profit. A very dangerous approach is being taken in this regard and, as I said, the over-reliance on the housing assistance payment needs to end.

In the very short time left to me I will make just two further points. I was at a meeting of Kildare County Council with all the Deputies and Senators from the county. There was huge criticism - not only from me but also from people from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael - of the strategic housing developments. Irish Water is an impediment in this regard. The strategic housing developments are very problematic regarding the bypassing of the local authorities. I refer not only to the democratic side of things but also to the functional side. That needs to be revisited, and I will talk to the Minister of State about it again in greater detail.

The homelessness problem is accelerating outside of Dublin. In areas that do not have city infrastructure there are no agencies to provide the extra suite of solutions that, for example, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive provides.

It is becoming a greater problem. That has been spoken about by some officials in local authorities to whom the Minister of State might talk about this.

I have spoken about this issue in the Chamber on numerous occasions over recent years. I have presented a whole range of solutions to the housing and homelessness emergency that we have. I have supported a range of solutions put forward by other Opposition parties and individuals. I have produced my own Bill, the Housing Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Bill 2018, which was voted down by the Government and Fianna Fáil. We have presented a range of solutions to the housing emergency, but the Government is not listening and will not listen because the current housing policy is not an accident. It is not an error of judgment or anything like that. Rather it is deliberate. It is a policy followed by this Government and started by a Fianna Fáil Government in 2002. I was a member of South Tipperary County Council then and I remember well the circular coming from the Department, effectively abandoning public housing provision by local authorities. I warned then that we would end up in a situation like this. This Government is wedded to the current policy, big landlords, vulture funds and cuckoo funds. It is not prepared to listen to solutions from Opposition parties and individuals.

I have spoken a number of times this week on this issue but I want to deal specifically with the question of local authority income limits for housing and the rental situation. Many families are excluded from the local authority housing waiting lists because the income limits are too low. They have been in operation for many years and have never been increased. That means that very low income families are being excluded from the list. In Tipperary, if a family of two adults and two children have €27,501, they will not get on to the housing list. That is not because of the local authority, as the Minister tried to imply this morning. That is because those limits are set by the Minister and the Department. That €27,501 is €8,500 less than the average wage. Families on very low incomes are not getting on the housing list. That means that they have no housing support. They pay full rents over a long period. They are in the catch-22 situation where they will not get a mortgage either. In Tipperary, on €27,501, if a person got a mortgage, it would be for a maximum of €96,000. The average cost of a house in Tipperary is €183,688. It is not possible for that family to get a mortgage. Worse still, most of those families pay in excess of 40% of their income on rent. Many of those families pay more on their rent than they would on a mortgage, if they were able to get one. Threshold has a current example of that. A three-bedroom house in Limerick costs €1,132 per month in rent. If that family was able to get a mortgage for that, it would cost €838 a month, €300 per month less than the rent.

The Government has created that situation. It is outrageous and mad, and it has to be dealt with. I have called on numerous occasions for a statutory emergency to be declared and for the implementation of a nationwide rent freeze at significantly reduced rents.

Thankfully the housing crisis and the issues causing it are at the top of the agenda this week. Statistics have been quoted by all sides over recent days and they are irrefutable. The housing policy of Fine Gael and this Government since 2016, and the previous Fine Gael-led Government from 2011 to 2016, has been acknowledged as a failure. Unfortunately, ordinary people are suffering as a result. However, it should come as no surprise to us that Fine Gael has taken this attitude to housing. The attitude of the previous Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, to the vulture funds when he allowed them to come into the country unregulated was telling. Instead of defending the ordinary people, he viewed the vulture funds as serving a role in our economy, despite the manner in which they treat people around the country. His attitude was cold and heartless and this same attitude has pervaded through this Government, which has allowed a failed housing policy to go unchecked despite the suffering of the people of this country. Ultimately, however, the people will be the arbiters of this Government. They will have their opportunity in the, thankfully, not-too-distant future.

In the meantime, it is our responsibility to offer solutions to the problem. Supporting home ownership must be a Government priority. However, Fine Gael has seen a fall of ownership levels to the lowest in half a century, with a generation excluded from ownership. All the while, Sinn Féin, Solidarity and People Before Profit have not supported any efforts to boost home ownership levels. The Government must do more to assist people to get out of the rip-off rental market. The Government must start delivering on housing. After six separate plans and a dozen launches, it needs to put bricks and mortar on the ground. While other parties grandstand with motions and Bills that will not build an additional home, Fianna Fáil worked on delivering changes and will continue to hold this Government to account.

Fianna Fáil is doing a great job.

Fianna Fáil is committed to facilitating and enabling home ownership. A strong affordability scheme is vital to securing that. Recent stories about first-time buyers struggling to access credit from banks highlight the need for greater State supports. Fianna Fáil supports the Central Bank rules and its independence. However, we need greater involvement from the Government in helping people to realise the dream of home ownership. Fianna Fáil will launch a new first-time buyers special savings incentive account, SSIA, style scheme to support savers in getting together a deposit to meet Central Bank rules. We will ramp up the supply of affordable housing units after Fine Gael scrapped the scheme in 2012. We will introduce a rent freeze to limit costs for renters. We will launch a shared ownership scheme to help buyers get on the ladder. We will reform the mortgage market and its rip-off interest rates that are above EU levels.

Affordable housing was a key aim of Fianna Fáil in budget 2019. We actively support home ownership and aim to launch an ambitious new scheme that will provide subsidised homes on State-owned land throughout the country. We want a new €100 million per annum affordable housing fund. The investment will construct at least 6,000 homes by 2021. It quadruples, from €25 million, the originally allocated money per year. We will resolve the ongoing mortgage arrears crisis by ending the banks' veto and holding them to account on behalf of their customers.

Some Deputies in this House try to link us to the Fine Gael housing policy and to say that when Fianna Fáil was in government, things were the same. The statistics show otherwise and it is clearly the case that Fianna Fáil Governments in the past succeeded in building houses, even though many Deputies in this House tried to show that that is not the case. Comparing the period from 2002 to 2008 with 2011 to 2017, Fianna Fáil built five times as much local authority housing as Fine Gael.

It also outperformed Fine Gael in affordable housing by a ratio of 2:1. The total number of social houses built by local authorities under Fianna Fáil-led Governments in that period was 33,705, while under Fine Gael it was 7,421. These figures prove that a Fianna Fáil-led Government will build houses, and we look forward to the opportunity to do so.

I am pleased to facilitate Deputy Malcolm Byrne's maiden speech in Dáil Éireann.

As this is my maiden speech, I first thank the people of Wexford for the opportunity to represent them in this House. I got involved in politics for three core reasons. Those reasons, which relate to the State's obligations, continue to be important to me. The State must ensure people have access to education and training in order that they can realise their full potential; provide sustainable employment; and, most important, provide a roof over all our citizens' heads. The issue of housing and homelessness featured prominently in the Wexford by-election campaign, as it did in the other by-election campaigns. Along with health, it was the most prominent issue on the doorsteps.

Politics has to be about solutions, not just slogans, and I will briefly set out three solutions to this problem. The first relates to generation rent, as it is known. Deputy Healy is correct about the amount of money individuals and couples have to pay in rent. Nationally, the average rent for a three-bedroom house is €1,403 a month. In my constituency of Wexford, it is €863 a month, rising to between €1,200 and €1,250 a month in north Wexford. If individuals or couples can show they have been able to make such rent payments consistently over a three-year period, that should count when they apply for a mortgage. While we support the independence of the Central Bank, if it is necessary to change the rules to ensure regard is had to rent payments in mortgage applications, that must be done. We cannot continue with circumstances in which those who belong to generation rent are locked out of owning their own homes. The State should not accept that.

Deputy Harty raised the matter of rural resettlement. It is important to get people to live in our small towns, villages and rural communities. However, the lack of water and sewerage infrastructure is a challenge in that regard. Irish Water has no interest in supporting small towns and villages, and it is debatable how interested the Government is in encouraging rural Ireland to grow again. In County Wexford, towns such as Camolin, Ferns, Campile and Ramsgrange cannot grow and develop as they do not have the water and sewerage capacity to do so. The lack of houses for young families has a knock-on effect on schools and services in those communities. It is essential, therefore, that funding is set aside to provide water and sewerage infrastructure for small towns and villages, not just in Wexford but around the country, in order that homes can be built to revitalise those rural communities.

The Government's policy on social housing is to blame the local authorities when things go wrong. Local government in Ireland has a very strong and proud record of homebuilding, going back to the foundation of the State. Between 1922 and 1924, when this country had nothing, 2,000 houses were built by local authorities under the Cumann na nGaedheal homebuilding plan, known as the £2 million plan. To put that in context, the same number of houses was built by local authorities under this Government last year, and we are a much wealthier country now, almost a century later. We have to give local councils the power to build housing. I have raised this matter with the Minister of State previously. If a council wants to build social housing within its own area, it has to go through the Department. It then takes four stages and an average of two years - longer in many cases - before we see shovels in the ground. We have to give responsibility back to local councils.

It is very easy to throw around slogans when debating housing. I hope that by listening to our concerns about generation rent, giving local authorities the opportunity to respond to their own communities and putting water and sewerage infrastructure in place in rural areas, we will be in a position to address some of the housing challenges we face.

I congratulate the Deputy on his maiden contribution.

I am sharing time with Deputies Bríd Smith and Gino Kenny. This debate is about housing solutions, so I will speak directly to that issue. The first solution is to build public housing on public land. Mel Reynolds, who is a housing commentator and expert, has said we have enough public lands in this State to build 114,000 public homes. The Government's plan for public lands depends on the new Land Development Agency, which generally favours a 60:30:10 ratio. That means making an arrangement with a private developer for 60% of the homes built on a development to be sold at market rate, 30% made available for affordable schemes, and 10% used as social housing. Under that approach to our public lands, a little over 10,000 social homes would be built when we could have a multiple of that.

The Government's definition of an affordable home, broadly speaking, is one that costs €50,000 less than the market rate. That is not affordable in my book or as far as many young workers or those on average incomes are concerned. Affordable housing should be provided at the cost of building. The cost of State land should be deducted, taxes should be waived and the builder's profit kept to a minimum. I will speak more about that last point in a moment. The State could also provide interest rates close to 0%. If all those costs were stripped out, they would amount to 50% of the cost of a home. The Government should be able to provide homes, which would cost €320,000 at current market rates, for little more than €160,000. The 114,000 houses which could be built on public lands should be 50% social housing and 50% affordable housing on that basis.

We also need drastic cuts in rent prices. A five-year rent freeze is on the cards in Berlin. We need to go further than that and introduce rent control measures which cut rents because they are currently unaffordable. We need to ban evictions into homelessness, pass the Anti-Evictions Bill 2018, make eviction on grounds of renovation illegal, and make the sale of property as grounds for eviction illegal, as is the case in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark.

Finally, we need to give the State the wherewithal to build houses. That means going beyond direct labour units in councils, which we had in the past, and nationalising the construction industry. Let us put the construction industry under public ownership in order that the public interest can be put first, rather than the profits of the few. That would be beneficial for building housing, as well as for projects such as the national children's hospital.

The Government will have been in power for nine years come February. In that time, the housing crisis has become incrementally worse. If the Government was a business or any sort of commercial enterprise, it would be run out of town. However, we are not talking about a business but about people who have to endure a homelessness crisis that has been compounded by various phenomena and successive Governments. It is not a natural phenomenon for 10,000 people to be homeless. It is the most unnatural phenomenon one can comprehend. More than 10,000 people do not have a house.

They are in emergency accommodation. It is quite incredible. A mantra has echoed around this Chamber that we cannot make the same mistakes of the past. I find that hard to get my head around. The mistakes of the past involved us building public housing on a massive scale, which has largely been very successful. It gave working people a house to call their own and has been transformative. I find it hard to comprehend how this could be considered a mistake.

The Taoiseach goes on about how it is not about ideology, but it is. Why would the Government want to sell public land to private developers when we have the greatest housing crisis in the history? Think about it. It does not make sense. If we have a crisis, one would think that we would build rental, affordable and public housing on public land rather than sell it to private developers. It is hard to understand.

The Government has also created the conditions compounding this crisis, particularly around vulture funds and property speculators. Other issues around people accessing council housing involve income thresholds. Income thresholds are far too low. Many people want to access public housing but cannot. They are discriminated against because they work. The thresholds should be far higher. I would go as far as to say that people earning €80,000 or €100,000 should be able to access public housing if they wish. There should be no barrier to that.

I do not know if the Minister knows of a man named George Clarke, who is a presenter and architect. He is running a really good campaign in Great Britain around council housing. He was brought up in a council house in the 1970s. A total of one million people are on the waiting list for council housing there. The right to buy scheme has seen millions of council houses sold off without being replaced. He said "we desperately need a new generation of well-designed, genuinely affordable council houses for those in most need". He says that "in 1919, the Government’s 'Addison Act' gave local councils the power to build thousands of new homes across Britain after the First World War" so this is something that goes back 100 years in Great Britain, which has a significant history of building public housing. At the same time, we have a tradition in this country where it is normal for 10,000 people to be homeless. This policy is a complete failure. It is to be hoped the general election in the new year will see the end of this Administration.

It is a tragedy but it is also a truth. It was also something I was extremely proud to witness. The solution to the housing crisis was outside the gates of this House today. It involved the working poor of this city, Newbridge, Mayo, Galway, Cork and Kerry, to mention a few of the places where the people I met today are from. Ordinary people in their thousands called on this Government to give them homes, not hostels or hotels. They know the solution and they are out to demand it. I would say to them, "Let your movement grow and mushroom and a thousand flowers bloom", because that is what the Government will listen to. For how long have we stood here and put forward Bills and motions from all sides of the House, yet the Government has listened to nothing except those who lobby it consistently to do their bidding - the developers, the builders, the banks and the wealthy?

Insofar as the Government has a housing policy, I congratulate it because it has worked. It has worked for the people whom the Government supports and who support it - the REITs, the vulture funds, the cuckoo funds, the bankers and the developers - and for whom the Government has bent, changed and moved the rules and goalposts. What it has failed to do is provide decent, affordable public housing for ordinary people on public land, and the public is well aware of it. The Government may be happy that it has pleased its cohort of supporters among Fine Gael, but it is certainly not implementing a policy that is looking after the people. The lifetime of this Government is short. I hope that it is very short-lived and that it does not get back in to rule over this sort of crisis.

Among the things the Government has done is drive up rents and refuse to implement a rent freeze, which it thinks will not work. It thinks we need more landlords. Remember, one third of the Members of this House are landlords. We have more than enough landlords. What we need is State-funded and State-run homes of a decent nature for the people. I am thinking of people like Ruby. I tweeted her photograph to the Minister. She carried a placard that read, "I'm Ruby. I'm four. I'm homeless." I tweeted another photograph to the Minister showing a family from Newbridge with four children who have spent two years in a hub. The eldest son has asthma and there is no sign of them being housed. I meet families in Ballyfermot in Dublin South-Central every day who are being evicted, and the Minister of State knows this because I have spoken to him about them. They are being evicted from housing assistance payment, HAP, properties. HAP is no solution for these people. We need radical reform and change. I believe that the people power outside the gates is the start of something new and frightening for this Government. Long may it continue until there is a complete change in the policies of this State to put people and their housing needs before the profit and greed of the Government's cohort.

I welcome the opportunity to speak again on housing. It is the biggest crisis we have and the biggest challenge we face, not just here in the Oireachtas but within society. Only last week, Fianna Fáil put forward a Private Members' Bill. I had the opportunity to speak about that to the Minister of State. Much of what I have to say echoes what I said last week. Seven days on, the frustration is increasing. It involves the families in south Kildare with whom I have dealt regarding the current housing and homelessness crisis.

The Minister of State's first priority in terms of serving the people is housing and providing a safe and secure home - a roof over the heads of families in absolute despair who are getting more and more despondent as the days, weeks and months go by. These are the people stuck in emergency accommodation and family hubs. They are trying to give their children a decent home and to get them to school every day but they do not have any of the resources or supports any family would hope to have for their children.

The first measure is about supporting home ownership. The fact that home ownership has dropped to the lowest level in 50 years is frightening. Home ownership is slipping away from a generation and the situation is getting worse. Younger people I know, like my brothers and sisters, may never have the opportunity to own their own home. That is okay if someone has security of tenure and security regarding rent, but we do not have either in this country. It affects all of the young people and indeed the not-so-young, because every week I come across older people in this situation. I discussed this with Age Action Ireland at the weekend. I meet single people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s who might be widowed or separated and who do not have a home to call their own. This must be an incredibly frightening place to be in after living one's life and doing one's best for this country and society and one's own community and family. Young people in Dublin and areas close to Dublin, including parts of my county of Kildare, are paying up to 55% of their income in rent. They are trying to save for a deposit but are unable to so and are being put to the pin of their collar.

The Government has produced six plans accompanied by 12 different launches. We can have all the plans and launches in the world but it is down to delivery and bricks and mortar on the ground.

It comes down to outcomes that properly serve the interests of those whom we represent.

Fianna Fáil has worked on policy changes, made suggestions and brought forward Bills. Only last week, Deputy Darragh O'Brien brought forward a good Bill to try to provide that 30% of all units built go to affordable housing, in addition to the requirements under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The proposed Bill would also be a means of reforming planning laws to prevent cuckoo funds from taking over complete blocks of developments.

What else do we need? This debate is focusing on solutions as well as problems. Fianna Fáil has put forward solutions around more local authority and public housing. The record of the Fine Gael Government over the past nine years is absolutely shameful. We need affordable homes and Fianna Fáil has brought forward legislation to provide them.

Shared ownership of homes was done away with under this Government but we need to bring it back. We need to reform the mortgage market and help people with deposits. Fianna Fáil has suggested a type of special savings incentive account, SSIA, scheme through which we would, if we were in government, support people to own their first homes by helping with deposits.

More designated student accommodation is also important. In our large cities with universities and other third level educational facilities, students are competing with private renters and people who are availing of the HAP scheme. It is incredibly difficult for all involved. Until we get more affordable accommodation, we are going to have that element of competition between different sectors of society and there will be more victims of this crisis.

Smaller towns and communities around the country are in real danger of stagnating because of a rural housing policy in many local authorities that essentially prevents planning for one-off houses. I am not suggesting a plethora of one-off houses but stronger cases need to be made for people who want to build homes in their communities and support their families. Generations must be helped to look after one another. Such a move would also support local businesses. Those communities need to survive and thrive. We need to open up planning in that area. As my colleague, Deputy Thomas Byrne, said, we also need to invest in water and sewerage schemes to enable small communities to survive and thrive.

We need landlords in the system, but unfortunately there is a complete over-reliance on the private sector at the moment, which is causing problems for many people.

We appreciate the opportunity to raise these issues. I ask for the Minister of State's help on behalf of all of those whom I represent in south Kildare and parts of Laois and Offaly who are on housing lists and trying to acquire their own homes and have a place to call their own. I quoted a poem of Padraic Colum's last week that we all learned about the importance of the opportunity to have one's own home and keys. It is essential that we all, across this House, do what we can to ensure that people have that opportunity.

I have said many times in this House that the first obligation on any Government is to keep its people safe, and this Government has failed miserably to achieve that across many sectors. If I wanted to sum up the Government's attitude and explain it to someone, I would give the example of the Government's support for the banks when they evict people and for the vulture funds when they treat people badly. The Government turns its back on the people who are affected.

This Government introduced vulture funds to this country. The citizens of this State, through the Government, own or have an interest in some of the banks. If the Government wants to solve part of the housing crisis, it must acknowledge that the policies of the banks are the source of some of the biggest issues that we now face, including homelessness, evictions, repossessions, people being put out of their homes and not having any security.

In July of this year, one particular bank sold 2,100 loans to a vulture fund, according to its portfolio of sales. Those were people's homes. They ranged in value up to €250,000, so they were not big, expensive properties. These were homes to which people who hoped to own a home aspired. The Government allowed that transaction to take place and left those people in a vulnerable position with no security whatsoever. AIB is preparing a home loan sale that may result in 6,000 of those types of loans being transferred to a vulture fund. Other banks, aside from the one I have mentioned, will sell on family homes and AIB might be next.

David Hall, the mortgage debtor advocate, called this situation a tsunami. Many commentators will try to undermine him and others by calling that a ridiculous suggestion, but the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach today discovered, as evidenced in the portfolio of sales of a particular bank in April 2019, that banks are now stockpiling for sale homes and mortgages with which they cannot deal. The banks are saving the costs that would have been associated with legal fees, administration and finding a solution to the problems within the bank and will cast the people affected to the discretion of the market and what the vulture funds might do with those houses. That is the kernel of the problem for a considerable number of people. The Minister of State and his Government do absolutely nothing about it. The Government gives tax breaks to those funds. In fact, it does not tax them at all. The Government allows the banks that it owns to do this to its people and will not change direction regardless of who tells it to. All of that is being piled on top of the housing crisis.

Local authorities simply cannot deal with these issues. I have seen how planning applications and suggestions from local authorities are treated by the Department. It is heavily bureaucratic and some of the loops and hoops through which people have to go to deliver houses in an emergency situation are almost nonsensical. These are not normal times. We are in an emergency. That notwithstanding, the Department continues to put people through hoops and put obstacles in the way of the real delivery of houses.

I agree that there should be a construction programme directed by local authorities with real solutions because they have the information. Local authorities and councillors know their housing lists inside out and do not have to be told anything.

They are being stopped in the street and asked when a son or daughter will get a house or by a couple hoping to get a house who want to know when their case will be resolved.

I do not know who the speaker was but the Minister of State said that they were to pay for bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels. The implementation of that as a policy does not work, and it is not the case that councils will do it immediately for people who are in desperate straits. That is simply not right. There is a policy that the Minister of State may have set down but it is not being adhered to across each and every county. As a result, we get different approaches to his different policies.

Deputy Doherty has a Bill before the finance committee because the Minister of State is looking for solutions. It is the No Consent, No Sale Bill 2019. I will support him on that Bill because it was brought forward in the absence of any understanding of any real policy by this Government.

I introduced the Affordable Housing and Fair Mortgage Bill here, assisted by the Master of the High Court, Ed Honohan, which went nowhere. The Government did nothing about it. As a result of ignoring all the Bills before the House that have passed Second Stage and are waiting to be debated in committee, the Government has introduced money messages and further obstacles of bureaucracy. It simply will not listen to anybody. Fr. Peter McVerry was on a television programme the other night. He has no political interest, but by God did he lay it on the line for the Government and tell it where it is going wrong.

The courts are dealing with cases where houses are going to be repossessed. That will mean that families will be put on the street. I know of a landlord in Dublin who is trying desperately to hold on to his house. There are at least six people living in that house who will be on the street. I know a lady and her children in Bray who have been before and humiliated in the courts. She has been dragged by security officers out of the bank as she tried to present her case directly to it. She has been threatened by the sheriff in the most appalling of ways. She is trying to hold on to her home for herself and her children and this State stands idly by and allows the thuggery that is involved in removing people from their homes. The Government should be ashamed that it has allowed this to happen.

I point the Minister of State to the Glenbeigh sale where those who are trying to seek legal representation because of the manner in which that sale was conducted cannot get the Abhaile scheme. Even some of the schemes Ministers have in place are not able to be accessed by the people who need them most.

The one man who stood in the gap and stopped some of the vultures and the banks behaving the way that they did, which I thought I would never see happen in this country, including thuggery and corruption - one can throw all the names one likes at it - is Ed Honohan. He gave everybody who came before him a chance. He held the banks to account and the President of the High Court, with a nod, I am sure, from the Government, took all those cases away from him. That is a shame in itself. It is administration that is not right and should not be accepted. I ask the Government to start in the courts with the banks it owns and stop these terrible evictions and repossessions and do something concrete about this issue.

On the vote of confidence, I agree Fianna Fáil sat on its hands. It did the same with the motion on the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris. The fact of the matter is that a Minister is acting at one with the Cabinet. If a Member tables a motion of no confidence in the Government, I will vote for it because that is the way it should be. I honestly hope that this supply and confidence arrangement, which is a farce and is accommodating all this stuff, comes to an end quickly in the new year so that at least the electorate can have its say.

I acknowledge the contributions made by previous speakers on topics such as the treatment of homeless people and people in mortgage arrears or on housing assistance payment. I will focus on the strategic housing development, SHD, process and make a few constructive comments about it. I appeal to the Minister of State and his senior colleague to take these on. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, reviewed the strategic housing development process earlier in the summer. I believe I was one of the few Deputies who made a submission to that. He is due to lay it before the House. I ask him to pause and take some constructive comments on board before he does that for the simple reason, and he may not be aware of this, that he is in danger of creating, at the very least, a difficult situation and needless tension in some settled residential communities that accept there will be housing developments in particular areas but never envisaged the scale, densities and heights that were intended. The SHD process drives a coach and four through all of that.

I do not want people to think I am leaving aside the topic of homelessness or any of the other allied issues around housing, but I have a limited amount of time and I want to focus on the SHD process. One of the commonest themes that has emerged in the past six to eight months, and it has become very pronounced more recently, as I do house calls, which I do weekly, and meet parents who are in their late 50s or early 60s who ought to be enjoying their twilight years - I am sure they do not have a particular issue with this - is that more of their adult children are returning home. That is a fact. It is not a cliché or an anecdote.

The most acute case of that was in a part of Tallaght, in my constituency, where a mother told me her four adult children had come back to live at home, varying in age from 25 to 35, because they cannot afford rents. They are fortunate, and I am being ironic, in the sense that they are from Dublin, live in Dublin and work in Dublin and can at least can exercise that option to return to the family home in Dublin. A person from rural Ireland living in Dublin who is paying extraordinary rents does not have the opportunity to exercise that option to return home. In most cases, these adult children are returning home to try to save a deposit for a house.

One of the issues with the SHDs, and I will return to it, is that they are promoting build to rent predominantly in Knocklyon, Scholarstown, Tallaght and Citywest, in my constituency. They are not promoting build to own. The Minister of State is asking people who cannot afford existing rents and who have returned to their family home to avoid having to pay those extortionate rents to save money for deposits to take advantage of build to rent in their local community where extortionate rents will be charged. It simply does not make sense. They want homes. They want to be able to buy. We have to be able to subsidise that, if necessary, because when it is balanced out, as I have said on a number of occasions, with the amount of money the State is spending on housing assistance payment, it goes into a black hole. The State certainly does not get any benefit from it. I acknowledge that, without the private rental sector, there would be no homes for people who are on the housing list, but there is no benefit to the State. The State does not get any asset benefit from the HAP.

The second point I want to make is that chief executives of local authorities are becoming increasingly concerned about the speculative nature of many of these strategic housing development applications. There are scores of them before my local authority, South Dublin County Council.

Some senior officials in different bodies believe these are speculative, and if the developers secure planning permission, they will simply flip the properties to make a profit.

When it was set out at the start of 2016, the strategic housing development process was well intentioned. The whole idea was to try to fast-track planning to deliver houses on the ground. Since then, we know, as a result of academic studies and journalistic articles, especially those in The Sunday Business Post, that the delay in the planning process is a contrived delay brought forward by developers and supported by their public relations companies and the Construction Industry Federation. The idea has been to create the impression that what is stopping houses from being built is a delay in the planning process. Yet, planning permission for thousands of SHD units has been granted and thousands exist on paper only without a shovel stuck in the ground.

I wish to return to the issue around SHDs. Perhaps I ought to have articulated it having served on a local authority for 18 or 19 years. I would have taken An Bord Pleanála out of any fast-track process and ended the process with the decision of the local authority. I came from and served on a good local authority with an excellent housing department. I did not always agree with the planning decisions but it was a good housing department that was transparent, publicly visible, utterly democratic and allowed public representatives to represent the people who elected them. It allowed those representatives a strong voice when planning applications came forward in communities.

This is the greatest scandal for ordinary thinking people. In the case of Citywest and the Fortunestown area, a local area master plan was devised in 2012. It covered how the area would develop in terms of housing, amenities, facilities, the provision of sports and cultural facilities, transport and traffic etc. Yet, a ministerial order can simply override the local area plan and the country development plan. In the case of Citywest, even if the developer had a mind to take note of what was in the local area plan, the plan is hopelessly outdated now. What was being proposed in 2012 was not eight, nine or ten storey mass-density build to rent accommodation. That plan proposed settled residential mixed developments. There were some apartments as well as duplexes and homes where people could make their families. The area is beside a major transport hub with the Luas. However, not everyone who lives in Citywest wants to go to the city by Luas. People who live in Citywest know that the green line is 99% off road but the red line encounters all manner of traffic and obstacles on its way into the city. It can take one hour and 20 minutes to get from Citywest into the heart of the city centre.

This is only beginning to hit local communities because the SHD process is beginning to gain traction now. More and more are going into the system. In Knocklyon, on the lands owned by the former Taoiseach, the now deceased Liam Cosgrave, Ardstone Homes wants to build close to 600 units, which are almost all apartments. It is not beside a college, business or Luas station. It is miles from a Luas station. It is not beside a hospital or business park. It is a build to rent project. It is 100 or 200 yards from housing estates where adult children are returning home to live because they cannot afford rents. I put it to the Minister of State that there is no greater metaphor than that development. It represents a complete failure of Fine Gael housing policy. There is no greater metaphor than someone applying and being granted permission on lands owned by a former Taoiseach and President of the Free State. It was the ancestral home. What we will see eventually on the land is 600 units of apartments that do not promote family living or community. They are not particularly well serviced by public transport, notwithstanding what he developer might say.

In Tallaght, the board turned down several SHDs and said we needed a master plan for the area. In fairness to the local authority and the elected members, the county councillors are now considering that. It may help provide a context so that we do not ghettoise parts of the town again. If any built town suffered in the past 30 or 40 years from planning mistakes, it was Tallaght. This is an opportunity to ensure we can build a modern, thriving, dynamic centre and improve on what is in place rather than repeat the mistakes of the past and end up with four, five and six storey buildings where there are no families, a transitory population, no one bedding down, and dwellings surrounded by absolutely no amenities. That cannot build a good society.

If one thing sums up the Fine Gael attitude to housing it is the fact that no Fine Gael Deputy has spoken in this debate other than the Minister of State. That is a real pity and it proves our suspicions that this is not a focus for that party. Frankly, the sooner Fine Gael is out of Government, the better. That party is completely and utterly out of touch with reality.

Fianna Fáil could have voted Fine Gael out of Government this week.

I agree with many of the comments of my colleague, Deputy Lahart, about inappropriate apartment development. It is happening everywhere else. The focus of my contribution today will be the Irish Independent headline that referred to the commuter belt buckling as new homebuyers are forced further out. The article refers to the great pressure that will be on schools and public transport in the commuter belt. I wish to let Fine Gael and the Deputies in the constituencies know that we are already under major pressure with schools and public transport in particular and with general amenities too.

My constituency colleague, the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, showed utter detachment from reality today when she was interviewed on Newstalk. She said Fine Gael had learned the lessons of the past and that the facilities were being put in place in conjunction with new housing. She instanced a playground in Ratoath and an extension to a second level school in Ratoath as well. That is her home town. Ratoath will not be the focus of most of the housebuilding in County Meath in the coming years. Moreover, the extension to the secondary school in Ratoath is long overdue. The playground, welcome as it is, is not the answer to all the problems with regard to our facilities.

The Minister seems to have completely forgotten the town of Ashbourne, where a major public park has almost completely fallen off the agenda. Fine Gael seems to have completely forgotten the scenario in Ashbourne with regard to schools. We had to bring five principals into the Department to plead the case for a primary school. It opened in September with 100 pupils, many of whom were going to school in other parts of the country. Some were going to school in Wicklow, Drogheda and the south side of Dublin instead of going to their local school. I raised the matter in the Dáil many times and eventually the Department took cognisance of it. The Minister does not seem to be aware of the pressure on school places in Dunshaughlin and the rural area between Dunshaughlin and Kilcock.

There is simply no planning for the housing coming to these areas. There is a vast amount of housing in Dunshaughlin. School planning is not what it is, especially at second level. Fine Gael does not seem to be aware of the problems in east Meath and Drogheda relating to school places. Fine Gael seems to be quite happy with many of my constituents being stuck in traffic on the N2 at Primatestown simply because of a lack of action. There is a grossly inferior bus service. What really took the biscuit was that the Minster promised a review of the Navan rail line. The Navan rail line was cancelled by the Fine Gael Government and is not really part of the national development plan. It is incumbent on the party to speak the truth. It is also incumbent on the party to know what is actually happening on the ground, to know the problems and to try to plan for the future, but Fine Gael has failed to do that.

We fully recognise that people will want to live in County Meath and that there is a major housing crisis in County Meath. It is caused simply by the lack of supply in Meath and by the lack of supply in Dublin as people move out from Dublin, something they have done for many years. We need a Government in touch with reality. We need Deputies in the Dáil who are in touch with the problems of their constituencies.

We saw in the by-elections my colleague to my left and my namesake, Deputy Malcolm Byrne, elected in Wexford. He has been pushing through me the issue of second-level places, particularly in Gorey. I refer to other colleagues. Deputy Darragh O'Brien mentioned second-level places and primary places in his constituency. Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee has done so as well. Kildare has another considerable issue. I refer to special schools in Wicklow. Deputy Casey, beside me, is nodding his head as well. He has problems there. Yet Fine Gael Ministers will go out and say that they have all this in hand. They do not, and the public knows that they do not. In the new year, at some point, when the Brexit issue is sorted - I acknowledge the comments in that regard from one of my colleagues - there will be a general election. At that point, it will not be Dáil Éireann that will have a vote of confidence in the Government.

It will not be Dáil Éireann. It will be the people of Ireland. Whenever the election happens, the people will have a chance to have their say on a detached and out-of-touch Government and finally solve the housing crisis, as we see Fianna Fáil, leading in a number of local authorities with smaller parties, starting to get to grips with the problem and trying to come up with real and practical solutions and get more people under roofs and finally solve our homeless crisis. What I hope happens after the next general election is that there will be Deputies, such as the Fianna Fáil Deputies and others who spoke in this Chamber, who have a real interest in this issue because they know and are meeting the people on the ground, and that we finally will get to grips with this problem. While the general election cannot necessarily happen before Brexit is sorted, the sooner it happens after that the better.

It was unfortunate that Deputy Thomas Byrne was not informed that there were speakers listed to make contributions this afternoon.

This is a debate on housing solutions. It is important to say that the Government does not have a monopoly on good ideas in relation to housing. We do not claim to have the monopoly on good ideas in relation to housing. Indeed, it certainly is not an ideological one, despite the best efforts of some in mentioning repeatedly that my party has some sort of difficulty with the provision of housing of any type. That is completely inaccurate. The record of the Government speaks volumes as to our concerted efforts to ensure that everybody has a home and that as many people as possible are taken off the housing lists and put into homes.

Homelessness is a significant issue and the Committee on Children and Youth Affairs which I chair wrote a report, particularly as it applies to children, in conjunction with the Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, and published it a number of weeks back. The report is now being considered by Government.

It is important to mention some of the solutions to this housing crisis. We have changed planning law. As the Members will be perfectly aware, this has been referenced and lauded by a couple of Members in the context of it being picked up. It is important to note that. We have introduced fast-tracking of planning applications. We have to a certain extent pushed quite hard the master plan concept in local authorities which some local authorities have been good at pushing.

In my constituency, a master plan is currently on display and for public consultation and it is picking up a significant amount of objection on such grounds as density. These are the issues that we have been debating in this House for a number of years. If one looks at Dublin city, every opportunity to build up is thwarted by the planners. I will give the obvious example of Tara Street. On Tara Street, the local authority members passed the local development plan with a height cap. An application was submitted for a building of similar height to the cap and the planners refused it on the basis that it was too tall. There is the irony in the Irish planning system. We will continue to be fixated with ensuring that we provide as many homes as possible, get as many people out of unsuitable accommodation and deliver upon commitments that not only the Government but this House has given to the public to do all it can to improve upon the lot of those 10,000 and, indeed, the 67,000 or 68,000 people on housing lists across the State.

The other matter that I wanted to touch upon was the culture in this House of blaming Government, stating that it is all Fine Gael's fault and that approaching our ninth year in government we should have resolved this housing crisis, we should have done all the rest of it and we should wave our magic wand and resolve the housing crisis in the morning. Of course, the reason we have this housing crisis is because our economy was collapsed by the Members opposite. It is ironic that they criticise us for not prioritising housing. I am sure the Members opposite are aware that we had no money to prioritise anything up until probably 2015 or 2016. It is important to note that having not built houses for quite a number of years, there is a hangover of approximately 200,000 properties that are not in the housing stock of the State and that should be. However, I go back to the title of this debate, which is "Housing Solutions", and thus have no particular interest in dwelling too long on the mistakes that politics has made in the past.

I repeat what I said at the start, that no Government and no party has a monopoly on good ideas when it comes to housing. There have been some good solutions put forward by Members, including Members opposite. It is appreciated because it resolves the problem. Even if it is only for a person or two, that is a solution to an individual or a group of individuals and that is what we are here for. It was Deputy Lahart who referenced that we are here to deliver for our constituents. We are here to improve the lot for our constituents and across the country.

I will finish with a comment on density. We must stop building out. Not being critical of Deputy Lahart, we must stop looking at a site as large as the site he is referencing in his constituency that happened to be owned by a former member of Fine Gael and criticising a planner or, indeed, a construction company for identifying such a considerable site and saying that it is a good site for the development of housing. Where I agree with the Deputy though is on the issue of unfettered access to purchasing large volumes of apartments and houses for rental only. There are, of course, all sorts of reasons that rental is a necessity in any market but when the purpose of the development is for rental only, Deputy Lahart is correct that there is an issue with building a community where that will not promote family life in general terms. We still have not resolved the issue of long-term leases in the residential market. We still have short-term leases that can only be reviewed every year or so, and put up by 4% or thereabouts, depending on where they are in the country. The difficulty is we are fixated on home ownership. Given our history, that is understandable. However, it is not sustainable for us to continue with such a considerable percentage of home ownership. The State must acknowledge that there is a large number of people in society who cannot afford to buy a property and who, depending their circumstances, may not be eligible for social housing, and it is something that we must facilitate. It is the same across the world in every state that I can think of.

I am not suggesting for a moment that it should not be an ambition to support home ownership. That said, there also must be an acknowledgement that there is a percentage of Irish society that will not be able to afford to buy a home. That is where the State must come in and assist them. That includes the likes of long-term leases and long-term rental agreements such as are done all over the world. We do not seem to do them very well here.

I wanted to reference density and ensure that we acknowledge that we need to build up. In Dublin city, within 5 km or 10 km of the city centre we are still sprawling. We are still filling in the north county of Fingal with two-storey properties with a front garden and a back garden. Maybe that is fine. That is fine, of course, for a huge portion of Irish society. In Dublin city centre, however, we are still objecting to apartments and high-rise development. In one constituency not too far from here, a Member of the other House has objected cumulatively to more than 1,000 properties in his given community. This sort of stuff has to stop. We have to recognise that we have to go up in the city centre so that we can justify spending billions of euro of taxpayers' money on mass transport systems. It is absolutely essential that we provide the throughput. Dublin city centre is no longer where people come to shop. It is no longer where people come solely to work. There are many reasons people go to the outskirts of the city but the justification for spending billions of euro in taxpayers' money on transport systems where there is a density problem such as in certain parts of south Dublin is that the density is not there and the throughput is not there. That has to be acknowledged. I thank the Acting Chairman for facilitating my contribution.

I will be brief, as I do not wish to repeat what has been said by previous speakers on the issue of homelessness and the shortage of housing. I will focus on my own back yard of Cork and in particular on Cork East, where the Government could be doing more. The common denominator that arises in many villages and towns in my area is Irish Water, which is not progressing developments. I will give the example of Glanworth, a little village in my own parish. Cork County Council gave approval for a developer to build houses with some to be allocated for social housing. The builder cannot start. Irish Water has put an obstruction in the way because a facility is not working properly. Lately we were led to believe that they were to be included in a bundle of other villages and projects but somehow, the village of Glanworth fell out of the equation. I have raised this with the Minister of State before. Leading on from Glanworth, one can go to Mitchelstown, which significantly is located just off the M8 and has great potential for economic growth. It is hindered also. No one can build a house in Mitchelstown at the moment. It is ironic that Irish Water is the problem here again. I understand that while the wastewater treatment plant in Glanworth is not working properly, what has been taken out of that plant is being taken to Mitchelstown and both towns are being hindered. It has been brought to my attention that in Castletownroche people are interested in building houses and Irish Water again has put an obstruction in the way. The Minister of State is getting wrapped up in the cities but rural Ireland needs a fair chance of growing as well. To grow, it needs houses, social, affordable and for the person who wants to get into the market, that is, for the working people. I have only been here for three and half years. These issues have been going on for longer than three and a half years with Irish Water in the Cork area.

I want to touch on the density issue. It is all fine having high-density developments within cities and major urban areas. In east Cork, in the likes of Cobh and Midleton, they are asking for high-density developments that are in no way attached to the town centre. Builders are standing back and will not get involved in the development. This is also delaying the construction of houses. I know most people here have been focusing on homelessness and the need for more social housing. If we do not get houses built in our villages and towns, these people could end up migrating to the bigger urban areas and creating a bigger problem down the road for whoever will be in the next Government.

I would need about an hour to go back over all the issues. I will touch on some of them. I have pages of notes here so I will come back to everybody with comments on most of the issues they have raised. I will try to work backwards. There is a common thread between a lot of sites, as stated by Deputy O'Keeffe, in respect of Irish Water trying to reach those sites that are earmarked and so on. Even on a lot of our own sites, there are issues with delays on connections and getting started. We are working with Irish Water on that. The Deputy mentioned Mitchelstown, which was raised with us by Deputy Stanton as well. It is a different issue in terms of investing in the plans and that. As we did not have investment in water infrastructure for many years, we are playing catch-up. There are plans to do that and we will do it and allocate the money. That is one issue. The other issue is the speed of being able to reach the sites that in some cases have houses on them. We are working with Irish Water on that as well. Likewise, we work with other utilities such as the ESB, which has brought in more staff to deal with connections more quickly. It is ongoing and I think we are getting on top of it and will solve it. Deputy O'Keeffe and others have flagged it and we are dealing with it. It is different from the issues the newly-elected Deputy Malcolm Byrne is raising in respect of servicing areas that probably are not on Irish Water's plans. I agree with him on that. It is an issue we have discussed with Cork and other councils when there are towns and villages that we want to see developed in a sustainable way. This needs to be done under Project Ireland 2040, which can and will save rural Ireland. There is a mismatch between Irish Water's initial plans and those of some local authorities. I have made it very clear that we have to join those plans together to get them corrected. We want to find solutions to that as well. We were in Tipperary during the year launching a very good plan they had for rural towns and villages to allow for servicing sites to make them available to locals as well. Deputies may wish to have a look at that. It is a good document. Our Department launched it. We believe in it and will work with them and will find funding to make it happen. The issue is well raised. It is common to other counties as well.

Deputy O'Loughlin has gone but she also raised one-off housing, as have others. I encourage Deputies to check the records on this. There is a perception that Fine Gael is blocking one-off housing and is not for it. There has been an average of 6,000 one-off houses every year for the past three or four years. That is quite a lot. In places like Galway, where one sees a rate of nearly 70% or 80% for one-off houses, that is not sustainable either. We have to get the balance right. Certainly, people have to have one-off houses when they are working their land, farming in their local communities and wanting to look after their families. That is allowed for. However, a lot of people who want to live in rural Ireland would like to live in a village or a town if we can develop it right and make it affordable to live there. We are very much focused on that. I believe we can achieve that through Project Ireland 2040.

I cannot let it pass that Deputy Thomas Byrne mentioned the rail line to Navan. I will try to stay calm on this but I am going to put out some facts. It is absolutely essential that we get that rail line built again, without a doubt. It is part of my job as a local Deputy and as a Minister of State to make it happen. We will get it back on track. The first step is doing a cost-benefit analysis to prove we are entitled to taxpayers' money to build it. That is the way we do everything now through Project Ireland 2040, through capital plans. There is proper research and evidence and I can stand over it. That is the way the Minister, Deputy Donohoe runs this country and that is why the public finances are back in order. The first step is going to happen in the months ahead with a re-examination of the matter. I have no doubt it will put the Navan rail line back on track. Thereafter, we can secure the funding under Project Ireland 2040. If Deputies read the document, they would note the Minister, Deputy Donohoe stated that he will do a review of his capital plan at the end of 2021. That is the opportunity. If the study confirms Navan railway line, we can allocate the money and it can be put back on track there. Again, we did not cancel it. It was never allocated by anybody. The Fianna Fáil Government and previous Governments announced it about ten different times.

We built it as far as Dunboyne.

It was announced loads of times. There were leaflets and posters that the railway line was coming but no money was set aside for it at all. It had not been brought through the planning process. When it is put back on track, we will bring it through the planning process and we will allocate the money and deliver it. It is needed. It is the only part of the greater Dublin region that does not have a rail connection. It was not cancelled. I will say, also, that in the way we now do our business, every Department has joined-up-thinking. We have roads, rail and all the different connections working together. When I first started at my first council meeting, the Navan rail line and the motorway were being looked at. I asked the Fianna Fáil Government of the day to link the two together and put motorway and rail together at the same time. I was told we cannot do that, those two do not talk to each other. Thankfully, that has changed now. All our agencies talk to one another, we have proper planning and delivery and that will continue.

If we stick to our plan, which was put together by the whole of Government, that will work.

I want to touch on Deputy Boyd Barrett's comments first. He was one of the first to flag up that this would be an issue in the early years. When people say this Government has been here for nine years I ask them to judge us on our performance since we made housing a number one priority in 2016 and allocated the resources. By the end of this year we will have delivered over 100,000 housing solutions in different combinations of all the schemes. As time goes on there will be more permanent social housing as opposed to having to use the HAP scheme and so on. The Deputy is right to say that there were signs that we had to step in before then. When we came into government in 2011 we did not have any money. We were €20 billion short every year. The Deputy flagged this problem in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The first chance we got to put real money behind this and make real plans was in 2015 and 2016. We did that. I ask the Deputy to judge us from there on. I will take criticism on those couple of years but I will not take the Fianna Fáil criticism that we are here nine years. The first four or five years we were trying to cover the ground it left us with, which was a serious mess, based on construction as well. I am going on about that because every speech tonight has tried to get at Fine Gael on this as well.

I have not seen the list of demands from the protest outside today. I will look through them. Previous marchers have asked the Government to go to 10,000 social housing units and thankfully we have reached that level this year. Now I hear talk of 20,000, which is about right. We are not that far off and I agree with Deputies on that. Other parties hope it will come to that level too. Other people's plans are not anywhere near 20,000 a year but we are. We will set aside the funding under Project Ireland 2040 to bring us to 12,000 a year social housing units. Next year it will be 11,000 but it will be 12,000 the year after. If we add in the affordable housing that is in the system we are not far off the 20,000 we need to get to every year and keep it at that.

Some people are not here now but the Fianna Fáil spokesperson was here all day telling us that Fine Gael is against social housing and that if we let Fianna Fáil back in it will fix it, that it has a proven track record of building houses. That was said on Tuesday night as well. As for the reason we lack social housing, in 2006 and 2007 when this country over 12 months built 90,000 houses, which were needed in the long run, but how many were social housing?

A total of 4,500 which is less than 5%. That is my point. If we had built social housing every year for the past 20 years we would not be in the situation we have today. Thankfully that has changed. We had a five-year plan which leads into our 20 year plan, Project Ireland 2040, to put social housing back where it should be. I ask everybody else commit to that. Some have but everybody else should do the same and not do what they did in the past which was to build houses, in a not very co-ordinated way, which were not necessarily for social housing.

What happened after that year? I want to focus on Deputy Malcolm Byrne, the new Member. He is right to say that sustainable jobs are very important. One of the first parts of Rebuilding Ireland involves having a sustainable construction sector so that people who go to college, who take on apprenticeships and develop their skills in the construction sector know they will have a safe job for a long time, not boom and bust, but that there will be a sustainable construction sector that will reward their efforts in training and education. Their teams will be rebuilt and others who go into the business of building housing will know that it is a safe sector. That is what we are trying to do. A sustainable housing construction sector will deliver in or around 30,000 houses every year for the next 20 years. It will not be a case of 50,000 one year, none the next year, 90,000 versus 10,000, but a steady supply. We are nearly at that point. We have come up to it steadily in the past three years to get to that level. This year it will be over 24,000, next year over 26,000. I will not take lectures from Fianna Fáil Deputies telling me that my party is not concerned about housing or social housing because it is not true. They need to check all the facts and figures because we act in a sustainable logical way that will add up.

I have listened to Deputy McGuinness and many of his colleagues for a long time telling me that tens of thousands of people will be evicted from their homes. That is scaremongering and it has not happened because we do not let it happen. We have a lot of schemes to work with people who are in trouble and may lose their houses through the banks. Our core system has protected the family home in most cases. Yes there are some whose cases are completely unsustainable for whatever reasons and eventually this changes. In the majority of cases, however, we have worked with people and kept them in their family homes. It is repeatedly said here, and I have been listening to it for years, that there will be tens of thousands evicted a year. That has not happened and it will not happen because we do not let it happen. Thankfully we have designed many schemes, for example, the mortgage to rent scheme is a great scheme. When a mortgage is unsustainable we can step in on behalf of the State and buy the house and rent it back to the family, with the option to buy it back. There are plenty of solutions. People should engage with us. Deputy McGuinness mentioned one or two cases where it sounded as if there was not enough intervention. I will check them out with him.

He claimed that my party brought in vulture funds. He should look at the history books. When we came into government we were handed a construction crisis, with 3,000 unfinished estates, 300,000 people out of work and 16% unemployment. That is what was handed to us. That is what led to funds coming into this country to buy up properties.

So this Government did bring in vulture funds.

It was not Fine Gael policy that brought them in.

This Government did bring in the vulture funds. The Minister of State has just admitted it.

The Opposition should not try to rewrite history just because we are getting close to an election.

Deputy Thomas Byrne raised the issue of commuter belt areas. We are trying to prevent the sprawl which has come back to the density issue. Under Project 2040 we will have to accept higher density in our cities, towns and boundaries. That means changing the way we think about the type of housing and trying to fit it into sites and that will not be nice for everybody. We have a lot of work to do to bring communities on board because we do have to achieve higher densities in key areas to take the pressure off Meath, Kildare, Wexford and Wicklow which got all the houses and nothing else in previous years. Under Project Ireland 2040 we are trying to rebalance that. There will be some housing and growth. Some councils want loads more but I favour balanced development, with some more housing, matched with proper school places, jobs, education, investments in health and so on. That is what we are trying to achieve here. Deputy Thomas Byrne raised it and I back him up on that. School places are a key area. We see that in Dunshaughlin, Trim and Navan and the Minister for Education and Skills has said he will meet all the principals to deal with some short-term solutions and to put in place some long-term solutions as well. We will be proactive and will find everybody a school place but we should not have to do that. It should be planned right. That is what is happening now with Project Ireland 2040: joined-up thinking.

Deputy Lahart mentioned the SHD process. It is not so much that process he has problems with but density, planning guidelines and applications. He did say at the end of his speech that not every planning application is granted. Some bad applications have been refused. We are trying to look for quality. There is a choice but SHD is not for one type of housing, it allows all types of housing. It is not a permanent process. The Deputy may have missed it but the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, signed it on Tuesday so the two-year extension put before the House a few weeks ago was confirmed. We are considering that and we will be adding to it and bringing it through here, with the Deputy's support I hope.

To respond to Deputy Casey, I do recognise the support we get from him and his party on many of the housing issues. He is right to say that many of the applications through the SHD process did not produce the result they should have and activity on the site. The planning permission was granted but not enough houses were built. In the review it was flagged to the Minister that he should consider bringing in a use it or lose it clause. He said he will do that. We will be here in January with legislation. I do not know if it is a regulation or legislation to tweak that to say the developer has a certain period to use their planning application under the SHD process or they will lose their permission. We want to encourage activity on sites and more housing. All the solutions to our housing problems regardless of the differences we may have about who pays what and so on are aimed at supply of housing. That should be our focus, to get the supply of housing up as quickly as we can.

This week and last week I have heard from one side of the House about home ownership. Those Deputies would want to check their facts on this. Home ownership is something I totally and utterly believe in and so does my party and this Government. We give people the option to buy if they can when they can or to rent if they want to rent, as many want to. Home ownership in this country however has been declining steadily since the 1980s, not just in the past three or four years. The facts are that home ownership declined dramatically from 2011 to 2016, much more in those five years than in the past five or six years. If the Members opposite are going to try to throw some stones at me and my party they should please check their facts first.

There is a myth being put about by one party, for some strange reason, that we want to blame local authorities. I started my speech by praising local authorities and by recognising their major achievements over the past three or four years. I am not saying they are all saints or that the Department is sainted, we do not get everything right, but the local authorities have come a hell of a long way from delivering less than a couple of hundred houses three years ago to this year's output of over 10,000 houses. They are front and centre of addressing the housing crisis. Like our councillors and Deputies they meet the people daily. I commend the housing teams who work in very difficult situations. It is very difficult to tell someone that there is no house for them today and they should come back in a few months. That can be very hard. The local authorities are doing a lot of good work but we are constantly pushing that, changing that and doing more to make it even better to deliver faster and so on and we have changed the system.

Deputies should not try to put words in our mouths and claim we are blaming the local authorities because we are not. This is a partnership between the Department, the Government, local authorities, housing bodies and NGOs and everyone is playing a part. There has been a major increase in delivery but I am the first to admit that it is still not enough. It still has not delivered a home for everybody and I am not denying that. However, we are on the right track. People say to me that Rebuilding Ireland is not working but by the end of this year, over 100,000 people will have been helped by it. We are now at 10,000 social houses per year and will be at 11,000 next year. We would not have got there in one year; it took a couple of years to get there. Some said that we should wave a magic wand and do it in one year but that was not possible. It takes time to get up and running. Now that everything is up and running, we can build on that supply and keep it going. At the end of the day, nobody wants to see children and their families in emergency accommodation. We must try to get them out of emergency accommodation as quickly as possible and into a permanent home and that is what we are doing.

I touched on the HAP earlier. I know that not everyone likes it but it provides solutions relatively quickly for some people. It is not the endgame or a permanent solution but it is better than living in hotels or family hubs. I am aware that some people encourage families not to take up a HAP house. That is wrong because a HAP supported house is much better than living in hotels or family hubs while on the journey to a more permanent home. I could say a lot more but I have run out of time.