Private Rental Sector: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— the rental crisis continues to spiral out of control;

— rents across the State have increased by 2.5 per cent in the last 12 months;

— rents in the commuter belt counties increased by 5 per cent during the same period;

— rents in Leitrim, Longford, Carlow, Kildare and Limerick have increased by 11 per cent, 9 per cent, 8 per cent, 6 per cent and 6 per cent respectively during the same period;

— the average rent across the State is now €1,256 per month;

— the average rent in Dublin is now €1,745 per month;

— in many parts of Dublin, asking rents are more than €2,000 per month;

— high rents are making it more difficult for first-time buyers, and those who lost their homes, due to recession era repossession or relationship breakdown, to buy their own home;

— high rental yields are incentivising investors to focus on the high-end, Build to Rent market, reducing the output of new homes to rent or buy at affordable prices;

— excessive tax breaks for real estate investment vehicles are having a distorting effect on land values, residential development costs and, in turn, rent levels;

— renters are at an increased risk of eviction and homelessness due to Covid-19 protections being removed by the Government;

— since August 2020, there have been 2,401 rent warnings issued by landlords, 715 Notices to Quit issued, and just 407 written declarations from Covid-19 impacted renters;

— the failure of the Government to regulate rents or invest in affordable Cost Rental is 835 also pushing up rents;

— just €35 million was allocated for affordable Cost Rental homes in 2021;

— a maximum 440 affordable Cost Rental homes will be delivered in 2021;

— the Government has no plan to deliver affordable Cost Rental homes on the scale recommended by the Housing Agency, the National Economic and Social Council or the Economic and Social Research Institute;

— the Rent Pressure Zone legislation expires at the end of 2021; and

— the Government has no plan to reduce rents, protect renters from further rent hikes or end the crisis in the private rental sector; and

calls on the Government to:

— introduce an emergency three-year ban on rent increases in the private rental sector;

— make provision in Budget 2022 for a refundable tax credit for private rental tenants, to put a month’s rent back in every renter’s pocket;

— make provision in Budget 2022 to commence the delivery of at least 4,000 affordable Cost Rental homes in 2022;

— amend the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, as amended, including section 34, to provide for real tenancies of indefinite duration;

— introduce a NCT-style certification for all rental properties to ensure compliance with minimum standards;

— resource local authorities to ensure an inspection rate of 25 per cent of rental tenancies within their administrative area each year; and

— make Residential Tenancies Board determinations legally enforceable, without the need for court action, by amending the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, as amended."

Our rental system is well and truly broken. Rents across the State are too high and, because of Government inaction, are continuing to rise. Single property landlords and thousands of private rental tenancies have been leaving the market over the last three years and, unfortunately, they are being replaced by a small number of far more expensive institutional build-to-rent-funded projects.

The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, since taking up that portfolio, has introduced four pieces of legislation amending the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, each one of which has progressively stripped vital Covid-19 protections from renters, including a ban on rent increases, notices to quit and evictions. Since August of last year, when one of those pieces of legislation was introduced, more than 2,000 rent warnings have been issued by landlords to tenants, but just 407 tenants have secured protections under the legislation by submitting written declarations to the Residential Tenancies Board. The fear that many of us have is not only that those tenants will face further rent increases, but that as the notices to quit come down the line we will start to see a slow, perhaps, but nonetheless steady, progression of notices to quit and evictions from the private rental sector and potentially and very unfortunately, if it happens, increases in family homeless presentations.

We also have a situation where there is still no real security of tenure. I do not think the Minister has been honest in his commitment to introduce tenancies of indefinite duration because I have yet to hear him commit to amendment of section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, in which the real problem for tenants arises in that it allows landlords to issue notices to quit on grounds of sale or use of property by a family member. This provision is responsible for almost 80% of notices to quit. We know minimum standards are still not being properly enforced because local authorities do not have the staff to undertake the inspections and because we do not have an adequate certification system.

There is also an embarrassingly low level of investment by this Government in affordable cost-rental, at just €35 million this year to purchase from the private market 390 properties, which will be added to the 50 cost-rental already in the pipeline to be delivered by the former Minister, Eoghan Murphy. As we move towards the coming to an end of the failed Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael rent pressure zone legislation, it is clear that this Government, almost a year in office, has no plan to reduce rents, no plan to protect renters and no plan to end the crisis in the private rental sector.

There are solutions. Government is quick to suggest that the Opposition does not have solutions, but for five years we have been tabling legislation and Private Members' motions, some of which the current Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, supported when in opposition and others of which he opposed. We have regularly put forward solutions. What do they look like? We have to stop rents rising. We have to introduce an emergency three-year ban on rent increases and, following that, to link rents to an index such as CPI. We have to put money back in renters pockets. The quickest and easiest way to do that is a refundable tax credit. Sinn Féin's proposal would see a month's rent back in every renters pocket. During its election campaign, Fianna Fáil proposed a weaker proposal in its manifesto, but like so many of its election promises, it was quickly abandoned when it took office.

We also need investment in an affordable cost-rental, not a €35 million investment to produce a few hundred units. We need approximately €1 billion annually if we are to be on target to deliver, on average, 4,000 genuinely affordable cost-rental units each year of the lifetime of a Government. Affordable means rents of €700 to €900 per month, not the excessive rents of €1,200 or €1,300 per month which the current Minister is seeking to impose on working families. We need real tenancies of indefinite duration, by way of amendment of section 34 of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. We need 25% of all rental tenancies to be inspected each year and we need an NCT-style certification system to ensure standards.

The purpose of the motion before us today is simple. It is time for this Government and Oireachtas to stand up for renters. We need a radical, but realistic and implementable, plan. Our motion outlines the bones of that plan. Not only do I commend this motion to the House. If we do not see these kinds of measures from this Government, yet again the gap between the rhetoric and the reality of its policies will be ever-growing. Fianna Fáil has never been on the side of renters. I suspect by its opposition to the motion, it will confirm that it will continue to be on the side of big landlords and big developers into the future.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Private Members' motion on a three-year ban on rent increases for citizens, many of whom are barely hanging on, spending a disproportionate amount of their income on what is their home. People who are renting are living in homes, not properties. This motion is especially welcome and needed in this era of the vulture and the cuckoo, two forms of avian life that are avoiding the biodiversity devastation. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have made sure that these are a protected species to be indulged and guarded. They are allowed to swoop in and scoop up swathes of homes in the Mullen Park development in my home town of Maynooth in north Kildare, which many of my constituents had their hearts set on buying. This is a hostile act; a rage by corporate greed on the public and collective good that is housing.

Housing is not optional. For humans, it is a necessity and an essential need in their lives that should not be exploited. While some constituents cannot buy the homes in Mullen Park at this point in time, most will have the pleasure of renting them. This is not happening in Maynooth alone, but across the State. The Government's view is that it makes no difference to renters that their landlords are global investors, but it does. That view is also the difference between the Government and Sinn Féin. This is 2021. We did not swap one absentee landlord for another. We believe that a home that is rented is just that; a home for hard-working people and hard-working families. The Government believes a house that is rented is a market opportunity.

I welcome the ban on rent increases proposed in this motion by my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, as will renters. Renters in urban parts of north Kildare are doing very well to get a house to rent at below €2,000 per month. Renters will also welcome the proposed refundable tax credit, which will put a month's rent back in their pockets. They will particularly welcome the NCT-style certification of properties for rent to ensure they are up to standard because sub-standard rental properties are a real problem, exacerbated by the scarcity of houses to rent. Anything that gives renters dignity, security and some peace of mind is to be welcomed, but this security is only a small aspect of our housing conundrum that requires address and change and is most fundamental. I hope the Government will have a rethink and support this motion.

I thank my constituency colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, for tabling this important motion on giving renters a break. Fine Gael's disastrous housing policy while in government has left many workers and families in dire living situations.

They face unaffordable rents, unaffordable house prices, whole estates being devoured by vulture funds, and public lands being sold to private developers. During the charade this country had to endure of the confidence and supply arrangement in the previous Dáil, Fianna Fáil Deputies huffed and puffed on the opposite side of the Chamber to Fine Gael. Instead of the changes Fianna Fáil promised to deliver once in government, it picked up the mantle of failed housing policies and carried on regardless. Since when does an affordable home cost €400,000 or more? To whom is that affordable? It is not affordable for ordinary workers and families. The Minister can huff and puff all he likes but he cannot blow down the reality that the homes are simply not there and, where they are, they are not affordable for ordinary workers and families.

In my constituency, rents in Lucan are in excess of €2,300 a month. There are families in Clondalkin who are in desperate need of a secure roof over their heads. The Government's housing policy has created a system where good tenants will not, for fear of homelessness, report rogue landlords providing substandard accommodation. Sinn Féin in government would ensure that all rental properties are compliant with minimum standards by introducing an NCT-type system. The Government has no plan for the rental sector but Deputy Ó Broin does. Sinn Féin would implement an emergency three-year ban on rent increases, not simply freeze rents, which are already expensive enough. We would legislate for tenancies of indefinite duration to enable workers and families to put down roots in their communities. We would also introduce a refundable tax credit for tenants in the private rental sector to put a month's rent back in the pocket of ordinary workers and families. These actions only require political will. The Government has no plan to reduce rents, protect renters from further rent hikes and prioritise affordable rental supply, but Sinn Féin does.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this very important motion. The Government has failed to grasp the scale of the housing and rental crisis and properly regulate spiralling rents. It has failed to provide affordable rental homes on a scale required across the country and has provided none at all in counties Laois and Offaly. Despite the Covid crisis, rents in Laois are up 3.4% in the past 12 months, with an average cost of €754 per month for a one-bedroom flat and €964 for a three-bedroom home. Offaly has seen an even sharper increase of 6.6%. Rents as steep as €1,200 are being demanded for a three-bedroom home in some parts of the constituency. Families are trapped in rental accommodation with spiralling rents and no security. A family of four cannot get on the council housing waiting list if the household income is more than €528 per week. A couple without children and an income of more than €504 is caught in the same position. At the same time, these people's income is too low to get a mortgage.

This situation is totally unsustainable. Sinn Féin wants to deliver solutions for the workers and families trapped in the middle and with no way out because of the policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The Government has no plan for the rental sector, but Sinn Féin does. We want to deal with the rental crisis, on the one hand, and, on the other, deliver long-term affordable and secure homes to buy and rent. In government, we would implement an emergency three-year ban on rent increases. In Laois-Offaly, only the Graigue, Portarlington, Portlaoise and Tullamore municipal districts fit into what are called district rent pressure zones. Even in those areas, there can be rent increases of 4.5% and some landlords have found ways of raising them even higher.

This is totally unsustainable and it needs to be halted. Working families need a solution. Sinn Féin in government would introduce a refundable tax credit of 8.5% per year for tenants in private rented accommodation to put a month's rent back in every renter's pocket. This would give some relief and take some pressure off renters while we build up our supply of affordable housing and cost-rental properties. The opportunities are there to do that. There is land in counties Offaly and Laois suitable for cost-rental housing and affordable-to-purchase homes. Our party would commit to delivering at least 4,000 affordable-to-purchase and cost-rental homes in 2022. There are currently no cost-rental schemes in either county, even though we have pushed for them, and no plans to provide them. That needs to change.

The central point is that solving the housing and rental crisis requires political will. We have produced a plan to reduce rents and deliver cost-rental and affordable-to-purchase homes. Such provision worked in the past. We need to get on track with this and get on with doing it.

Free sale, fixity of tenure and fair rent were the three Fs demanded by the Land League many years ago. Yet here we are today, with many renters in a very similar situation to that of their ancestors. In my constituency of Longford-Westmeath, the average rents may be below the national average but they are rising quickly. As one constituent put it to me, "It is only upwards that they go." I ask the Minister to think about that statement for a minute and about the dismay, hardship and hopelessness that come with it.

The truth is that it does not have to be this way. My colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, has outlined how the rental crisis can be fixed. Banning rent increases and legislating for long-term tenancies are part of the solution. I know the positive impact that could have on renters and families in my constituency. I ask the Minister to imagine a situation where, every day, the goal of having security of tenure gets further and further out of one's reach. People's wages barely cover the cost of another rent increase but any increase in their wage will put them over the threshold for social housing support. The dream of saving for one's own home is forever gone. It is consigned to the level of dreams of winning the lotto or driving a Ferrari. It simply is not going to happen. The hard-working families in this situation wrongly believe they are at fault. In fact, the fault and failure lie with the system and the shame lies with the perpetrators who fail to recognise the degree of the problem and take steps to rectify it.

Sinn Féin in government would ensure all rental properties are compliant with an NCT-style certification system. A Government that has not even considered such a system could not possibly be expected to understand how vital it is. At the moment, tenants are fearful of going to the Residential Tenancies Board and rocking the boat. They will put up with no hot water and inadequate central heating simply because they do not want to put their tenancy at risk. That is not right and it must end.

The housing market in this State is dysfunctional and that is not an accident. The outworking of this dysfunction is that the majority of renters do not want to be renters. Most want to purchase their own home and others need the security and fair rent that a council house brings. The motion Deputy Ó Broin has brought before the House calls for a break for those who are renting, a three-year ban on rent increases, the cost of a month's rent to be returned to renters, and for adequate standards for rental properties to be enforced.

Let the record show that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party Deputies intend to vote against these proposals. Their response to the housing crisis is to offer more of the same with new fancy packaging. They have offered a shared equity scheme that everybody who has examined it objectively says will increase the cost of homes. We have an affordable housing scheme that includes properties costing €450,000. There is a continued expenditure of billions of euro on subsidies to private landlords and ongoing scandalous tax avoidance measures for vulture funds and other parasites of the financial services industry. None of that is an accident. It is Government policy, led by an ideology that believes speculators and bankers should not just be allowed, but encouraged, to dominate the housing market.

Meanwhile, young workers can expect a future in which home ownership will never be more than an aspiration. Rents are too high to save a deposit and investment funds are ready to buy up the limited supply that makes it onto the market. Mortgage rates are far too high for those who manage to buy a house and the vulture funds are ready to pounce as soon as they get into difficulty. There is an ongoing faith on the part of the Government that the private sector will resolve the problem that was created by housing policy being handed over to that sector in the first place. It is a system where even public land is handed over to private developers and where, no matter what, the obvious and proven long-term solution of building public homes on public lands is avoided at all costs, other than in the most limited and tokenistic way conceivable.

The housing crisis is not an accident. It is Government policy and only a Government with the correct policies can resolve it. Only a Government with determination, commitment and principles can turn the tide. This motion sets out Sinn Féin's first steps to support renters. It is not an accident. It is a signal that better policies are coming.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and thank Deputy Ó Broin for bringing it forward. We have a rental market in Ireland that is neither normal nor bearable. In County Meath, rent costs are exorbitant. On daft.ie this morning it is €1,800 for a two-bedroom apartment in Ashbourne and Ratoath, €1,700 in Dunboyne and €1,600 in Dunshaughlin. It is less expensive in towns like Kells and Duleek but of course, like Ashbourne, Ratoath, Dunboyne and Dunshaughlin, there is little or no availability. It is an incredible statement of fact to say that a person could rent more cheaply in Sydney, Tokyo, Copenhagen, Oslo or Helsinki – places where one would be assured of the very best public services, including public transport, childcare and healthcare – or in almost any capital city in the world. The Irish rental crisis is an indictment of Government thinking, it is an indictment of Government policy and it is an indictment of Government priorities. Rent pressure zones are supposed to limit rent increases to 4% a year. In County Meath, they increased 5.7% last year, year-on-year and by over 6% in the last two quarters. The housing assistance payment, HAP, itself a massive transfer of wealth from the State to private landlords, is not the answer. In County Meath €24.8 million was paid out in HAP last year, up 16%.

The proposals in this motion would serve to stop renters and the prospect of ever increasing rents being used as a bargaining chip in a big money game. It would ban rent increases and put a month’s rent back in people’s pockets. It would protect renters in a dysfunctional system. It would protect renters while issues of supply were addressed. Covid or no Covid, every day I deal with individuals and families who are homeless or who are at risk of homelessness. These are individuals and families, many with school going kids, dealing with council homelessness officers who can do no more and must apologise and tell them they cannot afford to live in this area, that there is nothing more officials can do for them, that there is no other support and that they will need to uproot their whole world and move to some place they have no connection to, know no-one and have no support. That is devastating. It is shameful and is a direct result of decisions made by successive Governments. The rental crisis can be fixed. The Minister should rethink his position on this motion and support it.

I move amendment No. 1:

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

“notes that:

— the Government is fully committed to tackling high rents and ensuring an increase in the supply of affordable high quality rental accommodation through continued significant capital investment, including Cost Rental and other means and in a manner that respects the security of tenure for renters by ensuring equity and fairness for landlords and tenants;

— the provisions of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2021 relating to Rent Pressure Zones are due to expire at the end of December, and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will bring forward comprehensive new protections for tenants, balanced with constitutional property rights in the coming months;

— the Government is committed to improving the security of tenure for tenants through legislating for tenancies of indefinite duration, subject to legal advices;

— the new Affordable Housing Bill 2020, sets out the legislative basis for Cost Rental for the first time in the history of the State;

— the first Cost Rental units will be delivered this year and significantly expanded by the Government over the coming years;

— the Government has increased funding and capacity for the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) to help further protect tenants, and the significant ongoing sustained funding provided to local authorities to inspect rental properties and the strong legislative framework under which they currently operate has made a positive contribution to supporting the ongoing improvement of standards and to ensuring the availability of an increasingly high quality stock of rental accommodation in Ireland;

— as per the commitment in the Programme for Government: Our Shared Future, the new whole-of-Government plan for housing ‘Housing for All’, that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage intends to publish later this year, will ensure that the provision of an adequate supply of high quality affordable rental accommodation remains a cornerstone of the Government’s policy under the plan;

— the Government has provided, and will continue to provide, enhanced income supports and protections for tenants, particularly the most vulnerable tenants, that are necessary during this pandemic; and

— the Government keeps the operation of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2021 under constant review and will make any necessary enhancement to the legal enforceability of RTB determination orders, in consultation with the RTB.”

I welcome the opportunity to discuss and debate important issues in the private rental market. As Deputies may know, the programme for Government sets out that improving standards, security and affordability for renters is an absolute key priority for this Government and for me as Minister with responsibility for housing.

I turn first to the matter of affordability. We are acutely aware that in recent years rents have begun to reach levels that have put very real pressures on individuals, families and households throughout the country but especially in our major cities and urban centres. However, we have a plan to tackle this and I want generation rent to become a generation that owns and the Government measures we published just yesterday through the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 show in real terms how we are going to be able to help people get out of that rental trap and to help generation rent to own their own homes at an affordable rate. Also within the Bill we are, for the first time, putting a cost-rental national scheme on a primary legislative footing and I hope the Members opposite who have tabled this motion will see their way to supporting some real measures that are going to have a real impact in real legislation, backed by real money and which will have a real positive impact for thousands of people across this country. I welcome the support of any Member opposite for the measures the Government is bringing through within the first year of its taking office. We will have State-backed affordable ownership at the national level, a national cost-rental scheme, a shared equity scheme that is going to help first-time buyers bridge that affordability gap and we are going to expand Part V to 20% to protect the 10% social and have an additional 10% for affordable housing. These are real measures for real people that will actually work.

On a number of occasions we have debated the three-year rent freeze again proposed by Sinn Féin and debated here again this afternoon. It has been said before that a blanket ban on any rent increases in all likelihood - I think Deputy Ó Broin knows this - would face a significant legal challenge as has just occurred in Berlin, where rent freezes have recently been overturned by the constitutional court. It could also have another unintended consequence that Members opposite should also know, namely, that it will lead to those individual landlords continuing to leave the market. Whether we like it or not the private rental market is in place in Ireland, there are about 300,000 tenancies and we need to ensure that it supports the tenancies that are there. I want people to move into home ownership and out of renting, into secure public homes. That is why we passed the single biggest housing budget in the history of the State, to deliver 12,750 social homes in a year. We in Fianna Fáil, together with our Fine Gael and Green Party colleagues, brought this forward and the party opposite opposed it at budget time.

The provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act relating to rent pressure zones, RPZs, are due to expire at the end of December. I have advised Deputies, and do so again, that I am currently examining what might be brought forward in terms of comprehensive protections for tenants to tackle high rents, obviously balanced to ensure that there is constitutional provision there as well. I am doing that in the coming months and intend to bring the housing and residential tenancies Bill to the House in the autumn. It provides us with a real opportunity to look at what will replace the RPZs, what may have worked well, what did not work and also how we can see good a commitment that we have in the programme for Government for secure tenancies and tenancies of indefinite duration which we also want to do.

On cost-rental in particular, I note the motion calls for 4,000 cost rental units in one year, next year, and to make financial provision for that. I have started the cost rental scheme this year. There are eight schemes across the country, in Dublin, Cork and the greater Dublin area that will be tenanted this year. It is achievable where the capacity is in place. That is 440 in total, including the 50 on Enniskerry Road. However, Sinn Féin has pulled 4,000 out of the sky and says we can deliver them in 2022 without saying where, who is going to build them or how long it will take. Deputy Ó Broin alluded to some costs – it is about €1.3 billion. Is that on top of the 20,000 public homes that he says he will build in a given year, forgetting about how the capacity may not be built up to do that and about the cost of those 20,000 homes? Would these 4,000 homes be delivered next year on top of that? Is it on top of the affordable housing scheme that Sinn Féin brought forward that would actually exclude the nurse, the garda and the average worker from owning their own home? A person would not own it at the end of the Sinn Féin scheme and the party would actually tell the person who he or she can sell his or her home back to, what he or she can do to the home or whether he or she rents it in future. That is not home ownership.

There are measures contained within this motion that we intend to address. We intend to address them in a realistic and responsible way. That is why I want to get cost-rental up and running this year and I welcome the support of the Deputies who have spoken today and hope they will see fit to support real affordable measures on rent and on purchase that this Government is bringing forward in the coming months and intends to have passed by this summer.

I thank the Minister for agreeing to share his time. I welcome today’s debate to discuss the opportunity of examining housing and the rental crisis impacting people right across the country. Like all Deputies, I am fully aware of the difficulties facing people trying to rent or buy a home and obviously the cost of rents is a huge issue. We are all contacted by people who are either falling behind on the rent or struggling to rent or having difficulty even finding a property to rent. In my constituency of Dún Laoghaire average rents on a two-bedroom apartment are close to some of the highest in the country. However, thankfully, as the minister has alluded to, we have 600 affordable homes being developed in Shanganagh in my constituency along with cost-rental units and a further 50 cost-rental units being developed as we speak on Enniskerry Road.

However, the rent levels are unacceptable and the Government has acknowledged this by bringing forward a suite of measures to increase the supply of homes which will drive down rents. We have seen that accidental landlords are exiting the market for various reasons and it is not a welcoming place for them. We must increase supply, not only supply for people to buy, not only supply for people to rent but we need people in the private market as well. These should be individuals rather than the large investors. Rent freezes are not a sustainable long-term solution.

I saw that in the Sinn Féin Private Members' motion, that it is some sort of panacea. That is not going to be enough. As the Minister said, we have seen that overturned in cities like Berlin. The impact on the supply has unintended consequences and I ask Sinn Féin to reconsider that.

Ireland needs at least 35,000 housing units per year to meet demographic demand. Ultimately supply is at the heart of the solution to the problem. This is why the Government allocated a record amount of funds to develop social and affordable housing. On affordable housing alone, the Government has arranged more than €135 million in direct funding and State-backed borrowing to the approved housing bodies, AHBs, to develop the supply of affordable housing.

This Government is in office ten months and has already brought forward a record number of housing and rent Bills, including the protections referred to by the Minister, and unprecedented legislation protecting renters during this Covid-19 pandemic.

More needs to be done, including further protections and reforms on taxation of institutional investors, and the Minister spoke about that yesterday when speaking about the Bill he brought before the Cabinet.

This must be introduced via legislation, not motions in the House. It is simple rhetoric for Sinn Fein to come in here and say that it has a solution when in fact it voted against the practical measures this Government has attempted to bring in. We ask for its support. All Deputies in this House want to deal with the housing crisis. We are all contacted by people everyday who are in difficult situations. It is imperative that all Deputies across the House work with the Minister to solve the housing crisis. There are tangible solutions on the table that are unprecedented, as the Minister said, and I ask all Deputies in this House to support our countermotion.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The previous speaker said that Sinn Féin should bring forward legislation. I remind the House that the Fianna Fáil Party has voted down every single piece of legislation that my party colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, has brought forward.

The rental situation in this State is going from bad to worse. It is hard to imagine that it could get any worse given the astronomical rents people have been paying for many years now. Five years on from the launch of the Rebuilding Ireland plan, outside of Dublin rents are up 5.4%. There are 4,989 households on the waiting list for social housing in County Louth when the housing system payment, HAP, lists are included. That is almost 5,000 families, which is a record number. The average cost of a three-bedroom rental house in Louth is €1,214. In Meath, it ranges from €1,293 to €1,800 but in reality it is much more expensive in many cases. There are fewer properties than ever to rent in Louth and Meath and there is no affordable housing to speak of, as we all know. Government inaction is compounding the problem year-on-year.

A few days ago, it emerged that Round Hill Capital and SFO Capital Partners are to buy 130 of 170 houses in a development in Maynooth, County Kildare. The same investment company was involved in the acquisition of a new 112 housing development in Dublin 15. The Minister, Deputy O’Brien, said he does not approve of this. It is as though it has nothing to do with him. His party colleagues were engaged in this sort of talk at the weekend, calling for something to be done as though the party did not hold the housing portfolio and had not propped up the previous Government. Fianna Fáil in government and its partners Fine Gael and the Green Party not only approve of this but actively incentivise it. These investment companies do not pay capital gains tax, corporation tax or tax on their rent roll. These tax exemptions have to go. It is criminal that these foreign investment companies get tax breaks and incentives when an entire generation of young people have been locked out of home ownership. We need a three-year ban on rent increases, to introduce Sinn Fein’s plan for a refundable tax credit to put a month’s rent back in everybody’s pocket, we need to give young people a chance to have some security in their lives and to own their own homes and to stop destroying their futures just so the Government can line the pockets of foreign investment companies. For crying out loud, I call on the Minister to stop this madness.

In the last year alone rents have increased in County Roscommon by 5.3% and in County Galway by 5%. County Galway is now one of eight counties to have an average rent of above €1,000 per month. Average rents in County Galway now stand at €1,105 and in County Roscommon at €670. I was contacted last week by a person living in Ballinasloe whose rent is being increased after a rent review by nearly €400. This is a rent increase of 45% to 50%. This is exactly what is happening all of the time especially outside rent pressure zones where there are limited protections on rent increases.

While we continue to let landlords increase rents as they please, renters are struggling even more and we are putting them at risk of homelessness. The Minister referred to “generation rent” and the move to home ownership. How can that be done? People simply cannot afford to save the deposit and they have no savings at all. If one’s rent is going up by €500 or €400 in places like Ballinasloe, in a rural part of County Galway, then alarm bells should be ringing.

The need for an NCT-style certification for all rental properties to ensure compliance at very minimum standards is absolutely critical. Every single week in my office in Ballinasloe we are receiving calls from tenants who have broken showers, no heating or leaking roofs and nothing is being done about it. These are very basic standards for renters who are paying above and far more than they should be paying in rental costs. I have a number of friends who have moved home over the past number of years in order to try to save for a deposit. This should not be the case but they simply cannot afford to rent. They are working but they cannot afford to save a deposit. Many of them want to own or build their own home. I recommend this motion to the House and I hope that it will be supported.

I also want to thank my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, for all of the work he does on housing. I was somewhat astounded over the past number of days to see the surprise expressed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael about the tax avoidance measures enjoyed by the real estate investment trusts, REITs. It is absolutely mind-boggling. For heaven’s sake, they designed, sat down and worked them out. They either did not know what they were doing or they were persuaded of the merits by the vested interests that these investment vehicles were good for the nation. Either which way, they must own it and the consequences of throwing hard-working families under the property bus of the speculators that they have facilitated by their fiscal policies.

I raised this issue with the former Minister, Michael Noonan, in 2016 at, I believe, a social justice conference. He shifted about in the chair and nobody took any notice. My colleague, Deputy Doherty, continues to raise this issue. These investment firms do not pay capital gains tax, corporation tax or tax on their rent roll. Goodness me. We look then at homeowners in Mayo whose houses falling down with pyrite because the Government failed to protect them. They are told that they have to pay property tax. I know REITs pay property tax but we tax everybody else to the hilt.

The consequences of the housing policy which the Government parties must now own, means that there were only 47 properties to rent in Mayo on daft.ie today. So many people within the county are excluded from the prospect of ever owning their own home. Others are not eligible. A couple with two children are not eligible to even get on the social housing waiting list if they earn any more than €27,500. We cannot depend on Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to fix housing and to provide people with what is a right. We have to get off this pathway. That is why Sinn Féin's housing policy has to be delivered on and we have to have an opportunity to do that.

I went on to daft.ie today and the cheapest rental property in Cork is €450 for a one-bed studio. One would need to earn €34,000 a year to afford this property. One is paying €200 a week to live in a box, because that is what it is, and to look at a washing machine and oven.

In another property, on the market for €900, the kitchen countertop doubles up as a bedside table.

The Minister referred to court cases in Berlin and how the Government cannot ban rent increases. Would Germans live in these hovels? Not a chance. The German Government would not allow it. Does the Minister know that two out of every three HAP properties that are assessed fail that assessment? These are the properties that people have to live in. The latest figures illustrate how unsafe, unsanitary and inhumane are the conditions in which people have to live because of the price of rent. If you go onto the Daft.ie website, you will see that a half-decent property costs €1,100. The HAP is €550, so you have to pay €550 plus your rent to the council. It is not affordable. The Minister stated that rents are coming under pressure. He must be in cuckoo land. Rents have been under pressure for the past five or six years.

To give an example, two years ago you could rent a three-bedroom property in a particular housing estate in Cork for €1,400. To rent the same property in that estate today will cost €1,800. The Government brought in rent pressure zones, stating rent increases would be limited to 4% per year. We know the rate of increase in Cork is at least 6.5%, if not 7%, so none of the measures brought in by the Minister, the Government or previous Governments supported by Fianna Fáil have worked.

I ask the Minister to stand up for renters for once and for all and to bring in the rent ban that Deputy Ó Broin is proposing. If the matter goes to court and the Government loses, at least it could say it did something. The facts are here. Under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, rents will continue to rise. God forgive the Green Party for supporting them.

I thank Sinn Féin for tabling the motion, which the Labour Party will be supporting. In its amendment to the motion, the Government states it will tackle issues facing renters while "ensuring equity and fairness for landlords and tenants", before going on to state that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will, at some unidentified point in the future, "bring forward comprehensive new protections for tenants" but that those will be balanced with constitutional property rights.

We have seen how this played out before. We have seen constitutional property rights being used to justify ending the eviction ban and to block almost every Opposition Bill and motion aimed at providing protection for renters. All Members of this House know well that when the Government invokes constitutional property rights, it does so time and time again to justify failing to make the legislative changes that are required to protect renters thoroughly and to give them certainty and much-needed security. The Government will not balance constitutional property rights with protections for tenants. It will continue to privilege constitutional property rights while ignoring the fact the Constitution allows for property rights to be regulated by the principles of social justice and the exigencies of the common good. It is not in the common good to allow renters to live in consistently insecure housing. It is not in the common good to cripple people - young and old - with rents and it is certainly not in the common good to privilege the rights of institutional investors over those of people who need a home.

Last month, the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, released its rent index for the fourth quarter of 2020. The report set out that in that quarter the national standardised average rent stood at €1,256, a year-on-year growth of 2.7%. In the report, the RTB specifically noted that research indicates that households in the private rental sector suffered a greater economic hit relative to other tenures during the March to June lockdown of 2020 due to those households having a higher concentration of employment in the sectors most severely impacted by the pandemic. Longer restrictions would, therefore, likely have a disproportionate impact on households in the rental sector. Not only are they getting hammered by high, crippling rents and insecure tenancies, they are working in the sectors of the economy that have been impacted to the greatest degree by the pandemic.

Mere weeks after that report was released, the eviction ban, as it was, was gutted and the many private renters were left without protections. Only from next week will you be able to travel outside your county, yet you could be evicted nearly a month before that. You cannot visit family inside their home until 7 June, yet you could be evicted and left without a roof over your own head in April. We understand that hospitality will not be reopening until early June, and then only for outdoor service, and the remainder of the industry not for some time thereafter, yet private renters, who are disproportionately represented in that industry, have been vulnerable to eviction since 23 April. Ultimately, the first industry to open as restrictions relaxed was that of residential landlords.

We are still in a pandemic. We are still required to hold firm and are told we are all in this together, but the latter is not the case and it is becoming increasingly clear it never has been. Renters have been treated terribly during the pandemic, and there is no indication from the policies of this Government that will change any time soon.

The motion calls for the delivery of a significant number of cost rental homes. This is much needed. The Government, in response, stated the legislative basis for its version of cost rental has been set out in the new affordable housing Bill. That is really the issue here. What the Government is selling as cost rental is, in reality, another for-profit model which will fail to provide genuinely affordable housing for people. The supposed cost rental scheme will not be tied to affordability but will be for profit and for investors. Cost rental should not take account of profit for investors. The whole purpose of an affordable rental model is to target lower income renters, protect them and ensure they have a roof over their head in what all Members can agree is a ferocious rental market.

Affordability is the critical issue when it comes to cost rental. If you ask any person outside of this building what he or she understands to be cost rental, the idea that it should not be fundamentally affordable would baffle him or her. The generally agreed definition of affordability equates to one third of a person's net income. The Labour Party put forward an amendment to the affordable housing Bill at the joint committee to define affordability and tie the very concept of affordable rent to income, thereby levelling the playing field somewhat for renters. However, the decision of the Government to vote the amendment down shows it is not interested in real affordability but rather in providing properties at barely less than market cost, with profits remaining the primary goal. Affordable housing as a concept means it is affordable relative to the income of the person or household. Instead, the Minister wants to support a finance-based private sector that cannot adequately meet the housing needs of people in Ireland. That is not legislating in a way that balances rights; it is legislating from the mindset of the developers. It is these very practices and developer-led mindset that led us to the housing bubble more than ten years ago which burst so spectacularly, hurting ordinary, hard-working people to this day.

The Labour Party believes the motion is worthy of our support and we give that support wholeheartedly. We ask the Government to withdraw its amendment and support renters.

I thank Deputy Ó Broin and Sinn Féin for tabling the motion. I wish to respond to a couple of comments made by the Minister. He accused the Opposition of plucking from the sky figures of 10,000 direct build affordable homes on top of 10,000 social homes. However, during the general election campaign, the Minister stated he would deliver 10,000 social homes and 10,000 direct build affordable homes. You do not need to pluck those figures from the sky. You just need to look at what the Minister promised during the general election campaign. There has been no mention since then of those 10,000 affordable homes he promised. The House has a right to know where the plans for those affordable homes have gone.

As regards affordability, Deputy Duncan Smith made the very good point it is vital that affordability is linked to income and is not defined as a discount on full market price. It is disappointing the Government members of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage recently voted down amendments in that regard.

On the issue of cost rental, I am dismayed by the recent comments of the Minister to the effect that he wants to put profit into the cost rental model. Doing so would push up rents. Effectively, we will not have cost rental if it is delivered on a for-profit basis. Cost rental needs to be done at scale. Schemes such as the direct build at Dun Emer in Lusk under the Ó Cualann model need to be done at scale throughout the country.

If the Government is serious with regard to Part V, it should end long-term leasing, which is exceptionally bad value for money. It effectively means the State pays off the mortgage on a home over 25 or 30 years, at which point the developer still owns the home.

The context for this motion is that rents in Ireland have gone up by 61.8% from 2010 to 2020. At the same time, the average increase across the European Union, according to Eurostat, was 14.9%. That is a staggering increase in rents. Rents on apartments in Dublin are now higher than in any other European capital city, again according to Eurostat. That has happened on the watch of this Government and the previous Fine Gael-led Governments. Rents are well in excess of what a mortgage would cost. According to the ESRI, before the pandemic hit, one in three households who were renting privately or approximately 70,000 households had insufficient income remaining after housing costs to meet minimum standards or living expenditure. Tenancies in the private rented sector in Ireland are much less secure than in most other northern European countries. Individuals and families are under huge pressure to pay unaffordable rents, all the while not knowing when their tenancy might come to an end.

It is in this context that the Government is turning housing into an investment opportunity for vulture funds. There were reports recently of 112 new homes in Dublin 15 being sold off to a global investment company at Bay Meadows, Hollystown. This comes days after phases 2, 3 and 4 at Mullen Park, Maynooth were sold off to the same global investment fund. A few weeks ago, we had reports of 435 apartments in Ashtown, Dublin 15 being sold off to a foreign investment company based in Germany. According to the Construction Industry Federation, in 2019, 95% of new build apartments were sold to institutions, leaving just 5% for everyone else.

The favourable tax treatment whereby these investment funds pay virtually no tax encourages them to come into Ireland to buy up housing. This means individuals and families who are renting cannot compete with these multimillion euro funds and are trapped into renting for years to come. An entire generation is being locked out of home ownership and forced to pay high rent to these investment funds. It is worth nothing that in Germany these real estate investment trusts have been banned from buying up homes and apartments. We should look at similar measures here. Home ownership should not be for the privileged few.

The price of a house or apartment is now being set at the rate of return for an investor on their rental income over a 40- or 50-year period, instead of the ability to pay a mortgage over 25 to 30 years. Thousands of individuals and families who are renting and pinning their hopes and dreams on being able to buy a home are having that dashed by these global investment funds.

There is a link between rent increases and people going into homelessness. From 2014 onwards, as rents increased dramatically, we saw a sharp increase in the number of people exiting the private sector straight into homelessness. There are more than 8,000 people living in emergency accommodation who have lost their homes. We know from research that most people who have become homeless had their last stable home in the private rented sector. There is a direct link between these rents and people entering emergency accommodation.

We should be tackling the high cost of renting and bringing in protections for renters to bring us in line with most other European countries. It is welcome that the Minister says he will address that. I hope he brings forward that legislation soon and that it brings us in line with other European countries. It is important we do everything we can to prevent people losing their homes and going into emergency accommodation out of the private rented sector because of insufficient protections and because rent levels are so high. We should also look at measures they have in other countries, such as no evictions into homelessness, which they have in Poland. In Germany, for example, statutory services are notified when someone is being evicted from the private rented sector to avoid that.

On improving things for renters generally in the sector, we need to introduce a nationwide ban on rent increases and we need to introduce debt resolution and mediation schemes so when difficulties arise there is support for landlords and tenants in trying to resolve them. Most landlords own one home or property and do not necessarily have the skills to manage this. They need support in these situations.

When we look at renting, the conditions renters face and the way renters looking to buy are pushed out of that by global investment funds, we have to ask what sort of Ireland we want to create. When I raised these issues affecting renters about international investment funds with the Tánaiste less than two weeks ago in this Chamber, he said I was being ideological. Is it ideological to think most people should be able to buy their own home, that rents should be set at levels people can afford or that the housing needs of people and families should come ahead of the needs of global investment funds? Is it ideological to think a young child should not be eating her dinner on the side of the street, that there is no justification in this day and age for a housing system which forces more than 8,000 people into emergency accommodation or that renters should not live in the constant fear of eviction and losing their home? If it is ideological to believe people should have access to the housing and shelter they and their families need, to rents that are affordable, to secure tenancies and to homes that are affordable to purchase and within reach, then I wholeheartedly support that ideology.

I am sharing time with Deputies Paul Murphy and Mick Barry. I thank Deputy Ó Broin for bringing forward the motion. Anything that gives us an opportunity to highlight the housing crisis and the plight of renters is very welcome. I support overwhelmingly the thrust of the motion. The Minister, Deputy O'Brien, and Deputy Devlin's attempts to defend the Government's position and their countermotion are threadbare in the extreme.

A few weeks ago, I described the LDA legislation as a heist where the Government had opened the door, not just so that private developers and speculators would control the private market, but for the entire public land bank to be plundered by private financial interests. I pointed out that the references to setting affordable prices and rents subject to local market conditions meant they would not be affordable. With the affordable housing scheme, my worst fears are confirmed. What planet is the Government living on? For €450,000 in Dublin and Dún Laoghaire to be affordable, one would need an income of about €120,000. Average wages in this country are €39,000. A single person can forget it as he or she has not got a chance.

The legislation refers to market rents - not even average market rents but local market rents. In my area, local market rents are between €2,000 and €3,000 or even €3,500. The Minister suggests the cost rental will be a discount on the local market rents. It is a joke. What will happen and is happening is that the cuckoos come in, buy all the blocks and lease them back to the council, which pays an extortionate fortune. They make a fortune, paid for with taxpayers' money, and in 25 years they feck off. They have made a fortune and people are put out, as is happening with the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. It is extraordinary. I cannot believe Shanganagh is mentioned as a positive example. Shanganagh was handed over for public housing by a Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats Government in 2006. Since then, we have had Fianna Fáil in government, Fine Gael in government, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in government and not a sod has been turned. Now we discover the affordable, cost-rental housing on it will be subject to a benchmark against local rent and prices, which are the highest anywhere in the country.

It is flipping unbelievable. In Cherrywood, which is also in my constituency, former NAMA land, a Fianna Fáil construct, was handed over to private developers who are now building four blocks of build-to-rent apartments. I met the developers and they told me it was costing them €400,000 per unit to build and that every single one of them had been sold to a Dutch state pension fund. Even the Dutch understand that its state should invest in public housing, but they are doing it here because our State will not do it. It will not build its own affordable housing and public housing that is genuinely affordable. It is beyond shocking. In Cherrywood originally, when €15 million of public money in local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, funding was given to pay for the infrastructure, we were promised that 40% of all housing built with that money would go for affordable housing and that it would cost no more than €300,000. Within weeks, that had disappeared. There was no 40%, or any other percentage: in fact, we do not know what percentage of affordable housing there will be. Yesterday, the Minister told us that affordable housing has increased from €300,000 a few years ago to €450,000. How is housing affordable based on people's income if it is capped at €450,000 in one area, €400,000 in another area, €350,000 in another area, €300,000 in another area and, €225,000 in another area. It has got nothing to do with affordability. Does the Minister think people get different wages depending on whether they live in Leitrim or Dún Laoghaire? It is just disgraceful.

Again, and again and again this Government takes the side of the corporate landlords and the property developers. Today, it is opposing this motion to freeze rents and tackle those landlords who are breaking the rules when it comes to minimum standards. Why would the Government oppose a rent freeze? Why would it oppose inspecting rental properties to ensure they are meeting minimum standards? The only people who benefit from the Government's approach are rack-renting, slum landlords. They are being given the green light by the Government today to increase their rents and to continue to break the minimum housing standards. That is who this Government serves. What we need is a left Government with socialist policies to stand up to the big landlords and to take the side of renters and those who are looking to access housing. Simply freezing rents is not enough. We need to cut rents, ban evictions, build public housing and nationalise the properties of the big corporate landlords.

The Government’s countermotion shamefully promotes its so-called affordable housing plans. Yesterday, we heard so-called affordable housing could be as much as €500,000 for an apartment. Half a million euro may be affordable to the Minister, but it is completely out of reach for many ordinary workers in this country. It is an Orwellian approach from Fianna Fáil. War is peace, spin is truth, and half a million euro for an apartment is affordable.

The so-called shared equity part of the proposals is custom built to drive up house prices. It is done at the behest of the lobbying of private developer organisations. The Minister's own Department warned that a similar scheme drove up prices by 6% in London and yet he ignored that, claiming it was only 1%. What we need is genuinely affordable housing, public housing on public land available to all, with rents linked to income. Housing should be a right not an investment opportunity for the vultures and the speculators.

The Minister lifted the blanket ban on rent increases and evictions. He bowed to the landlord lobby when he did so. He was warned on the floor of this Dáil of what the consequences of his actions would be and, unfortunately, we are beginning to see the consequences of those actions already. Last Friday the Inner City Helping Homeless group reported the case of a healthcare worker who was evicted while at work. The healthcare worker had their belongings moved out of their place while they were at work. The notice to quit was for the end of May. It was an illegal eviction, but it was due to take place a few weeks down the road on the basis of the Minister's actions in any case.

We see a case of a vulture fund that wants to evict 12 households, 20 adults and some children, from a number of properties in Dublin. Once again, essential workers are being evicted: construction workers, retail workers and a carer who works in disability services. The vulture fund has a dispute going with an unscrupulous slum landlord who has possession orders against him but has continued to collect the rent. The victims in the dispute are the tenants, one of whom was described in a court document as "persons unknown". I refer to someone who was a tenant, who paid rent for 17 years. That case is being heard in the High Court this morning, so I will say no more about it in this forum at this stage.

It is clear as day that what needs to be done is to reinstate the ban on rent increases and on evictions. It was quite an effective policy when it was in place. It reduced the number of people forced to live in emergency accommodation from more than 10,000 to fewer than 9,000. Rather than listen to the language of those statistics, the Minister has listened to the pressure and the calls from the landlord lobby. He made his choice in that regard and it is very much the wrong choice.

As I stated as recently as last week, I welcome each and every opportunity to discuss the rental and housing crisis we now face in this country. The rental situation in Ireland is now at a crisis point. In my constituency of Louth, as far as I am aware, rent has never been higher. In my home town of Dundalk, it is normal for a standard three-bedroom house to have a rent bill of between €1,200 and €1,600 per month. To put this in perspective, that is the equivalent of between €280 and €370 per week. This puts renting a house out of reach for most young couples.

The motion before us today calls on the Government to take a number of immediate actions that will help those caught in the rental trap. I would support an emergency three-year ban on rent increases for private residential houses, but to implement this we must put in place the necessary legislation to protect renters. In mainland Europe it is quite common to see people rent for all their adult lives but this is not what we are used to here in Ireland. However, it is the case that we need to readjust our thinking. In mainland Europe it is commonplace for tenants to have long-term lease agreements with their landlords, in many cases for terms of 20 years or more. Furthermore, there are very strong rules which protect the tenants and, for that matter, the landlords. In Ireland at present it is common for lease agreements to last no longer than a couple of years. This does not give certainty to tenants, which as far as I am concerned is one the major issues. We must be able to protect tenants and also give certainty to landlords. Why can we not look at implementing proper legislation that will facilitate longer-term tenancies, tenancies that in effect could last an adult lifetime?

Today's motion also calls for a refundable tax credit for private rental tenants. I support this call but I urge caution on how it is administered and what rate of tax relief would be provided. We must support those tenants who really need the support and not those who do not require such help. Again, there would be challenges on how we implement this, but I believe if we are serious about it then a way can be found.

The motion also calls for provision to be made for the delivery of at least 4,000 affordable cost-rental homes in 2022. I support this concept, but why do we have to stop at 4,000? In Dundalk, there are most likely in excess of 100 homes that are currently lying idle and vacant. While we do not know the full facts, it is suspected that the vast majority of these vacant homes are in the possession of banks and local authorities. I have raised this issue in the House before and I will raise it again. Why are these houses allowed to remain vacant? Surely the Government can make provision to bring these homes back into the housing stock. Many of these homes are in established residential areas where services such as schools, shops and public transport are already in place. Could the Minister explain why the banks are holding onto these properties and why local authorities are not putting tenants in them?

This merits further discussion in order to get to the bottom of the issue.

In my constituency office one of the major issues that is constantly raised is that of young couples not being able to get mortgages. One of the most frustrating aspects of this is that in many cases these couples are paying in excess of €1,500 per month in rent, yet when they apply for mortgages where repayments are normally in the region of €1,000 to €1,200 they are being refused by the banks. Why is this the case? If these couples can afford their rent, surely they can afford lower mortgage repayments. I have in the past called on the banks to recognise and give credit to those who are currently paying rent and are applying for mortgages that would mean lower repayments. I get frustrated.

The motion also calls for the provision of an indefinite term for tenancies. As I have said, this is commonplace in Europe and is something we must embrace. Why are landlords so reluctant to enter into long-term lease agreements? Some would argue that it could be greed on the part of landlords. This may well be true, but we must look at both sides. Why would a landlord not commit to, for example, a 20-year tenancy agreement if that agreement had any rent increases or decreases based on inflation? Surely this would lead to a win-win situation. The tenant would have the safe knowledge that his or her rent would only increase in line with inflation, while the landlord would also have the safety net of knowing he or she had a long-term tenancy linked to inflation. We must examine why this is not happening.

I know for a fact that only for mums, dads and family members there would be many more people homeless on the streets. Couples cannot afford to rent. They are on council housing lists because their income is slightly over the threshold. They are locked into the situation.

I would like to once more offer my support for certain measures in the motion, including the introduction of an emergency three-year ban on rent increases, the provision of a rent tax credit and the amendment of the Tenancy Act 2004 to provide for real tenancies of indefinite duration.

Housing is a basic human need. Without housing most aspects of people's lives break down. Physical and mental health starts to deteriorate. A family's ability to provide healthy nutrition for their children falls apart. Education and work life are practically impossible without a home.

Ireland is suffering from a prolonged national housing disaster. Up to 1 million people in this State are affected by the housing crisis, either through mortgage distress, homelessness, spending years on housing waiting list or grossly unfair rents and mortgages. This crisis has been going on for so long that many in society, in particular in the political class as well as some in the media class, have become desensitised to it.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil consider themselves parties of the free market. In truth, both are parties of market distortion. Much of the dysfunction in the housing market is a direct result of actions taken by Fine Gael and supported by Fianna Fáil. At the bottom of the housing slump, Fine Gael rolled out the red carpet to international residential investors and vulture funds in its efforts to put a floor under house prices and improve the balance sheets of the Irish banks. It achieved this through providing generous taxation policies and light-touch regulation.

As a result, international investors piled into the market, made massive profits, pushed prices for rents and mortgages through the roof and put first-time buyers out of the market. We saw what happened with the majority of homes purchased in a Kildare housing estate in the past week. What is happening, which is shocking given Fianna Fáil's history, is that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are now creating a tenant class, something that has not been seen since the likes of the Irish landlord system. There is a form of feudalism recurring in Irish society at this time. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are pitching REITs with massive competitive advantages against young couples and families on a daily basis in David-and-Goliath battles. There can only be one winner in such situations.

The solution is not rocket science. If international investors are hoovering up housing units due to the massive competitive advantage they have, even up the odds. The Government should reduce the advantages they have and increase the buying power of young families. It is very simple. If institutions have enormous power in the market, the Government can pull the economic levers to reduce that power and make sure that young families can purchase homes and pay lower rents.

Builders have said that financing is a major difficulty. If they get financing from an international investor, it gives them the confidence to proceed with a project. However, it can take six months from the time a young family views a house to put finance in place, if such a family can get finance at all. On the supply side, building costs are skyrocketing. I spoke to a builder today who showed me a list of about 25 key items in the building of a house, all of which have increased in price, in some cases by double digit percentages. The supply of land is still being controlled. Speculators, hoping to harvest increased prices in the future, are sitting on vast tracts of land. All of this is adding to the fact that homes and rents are being pushed beyond the reach of families.

On the demand side, REITs get away without paying property taxes. They do not pay proper capital gains tax or stamp duty and are paying a tiny amount of corporation tax. They achieve interest rates on the international market at levels far lower than the interest rates young families have to deal with. They are being turbo-boosted by these factors in their battles with young families.

Aontú would level the playing field between REITs and families. We would strip their advantages from them and ensure they are no longer sheltered from proper taxation. We would build a public banking system to ensure that the other distorted market, namely, the banking market, is reformed so that families can get access to decent mortgages at their interest rates. We would increase the supply of land by taxing vacant land to the level that it costs to hold it. We would fund the return of thousands of empty houses around the country to the market and tax those who refuse to bring those homes back onto the market. We would increase the level of CPOs that happen with regard to empty and derelict houses. We would increase the number of trainee apprentices in order to increase the pool of skilled workers. I ask the Minister to make sure that he implements these reforms so that young families have a chance to purchase their own homes.

I welcome the motion. Unfortunately, I can confirm that the private rental sector in Ireland is totally dysfunctional. Government after Government has tried to stimulate the housing market but that has resulted in driving rents higher and higher. Rents have increased by 100% since 2013.

The most shocking revelation of this week was the case of Mullen Park in Maynooth, where a global property investment firm purchased most of the 170 first-time buyer homes available. There is no legislation to stop investors doing that. Yesterday, Round Hill Capital purchased 112 houses suitable for single families in Hollystown in Dublin 15. They will also be used as rental properties. Is this the new supply line for the rental market? Our building crisis has been facilitated by Government.

While the recent cost-rental scheme is welcome, it is entirely inadequate in terms of the scale of funding. We are building hundreds, rather than thousands, of cost-rental homes and homes for affordable purchase. There was a national call-out for houses in Ireland. The Minister got 400 houses and rejected 155. Why did that happen? They were never inspected. Why not? Surely this was a quick fix. Do councils not have enough money? There are people in cities, towns, villages and rural areas affected by this. The Government cannot supply houses to all generations. There are no rental properties or houses being built. There are major supply and demand issues with house rentals. On the other hand, in the 2040 plan, backed by the Government, it is proposed to stop houses being built in towns, villages and rural areas because there is no infrastructure.

We are 0.1% globally but the Government is stopping us from living in our own areas where we grew up. It is stopping people building anything except cities. The Land Development Agency is only based on supply chains in cities. It has nothing for anyone outside a city. Since I first came to the Dáil, I said I was here to represent County Limerick. I am not here to represent Dublin but am here to get a fair share for the county of Limerick. I want this Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party Government to give equality to the rest of the country and allow investment in our markets and infrastructure. Since my election, I said there was no investment. Askeaton is waiting 33 years for a sewerage upgrade. Oola is also waiting for an upgrade in sewerage infrastructure as is Hospital. There is only 27% capacity left in County Limerick but guess where all the development is going? All the Government funding is going to the areas with existing infrastructure.

The 2040 plan reduces the amount of housing that can be built in towns and villages in County Limerick and country-wide. That does not fix the problem. Fixing the problem is going back to the basics. Give us the infrastructure. Let us build houses in our areas to accommodate the people. Let us build houses in our towns and villages and give us the investment in infrastructure for which we have asked for more than 30 years. Stop giving all the funding to the cities, which are causing much of the emission problems.

Does the Minister of State know about a report done by the OPW? Who are the biggest polluters of our rivers and waterways? It is the local authorities, the Government and the OPW due to a lack of infrastructure and a lack of investment.

We are all aware that the current rates of rent are just not sustainable for most working families and those who rely on HAP and other assistance payments. They can be genuinely exploitative. Analysis of recent trends in the Irish residential sales market for the first quarter of this year showed the biggest year-on-year increases in the country are in my own county of Offaly which increased by almost 18%. The Government points to the programme for Government commitment to develop a new cost-rental housing sector in Ireland in which rents charged will be set to cover the costs of delivering, managing and maintaining the homes. It states a number of work strands are under way to deliver cost-rental housing using local authorities' expertise, the Land Development Agency and approved housing bodies. However, in my constituency, one approved housing body, Respond, has received €245 million since 2016 yet cannot fix basic insulation problems for residents of Chesterfield Close in Birr. I have brought this to the Minister of State's attention because it warrants urgent intervention. It is not acceptable that people cannot have their windows and doors replaced. Some 26 different houses and apartments are affected. Questions need to be answered about the amount Respond gets while being unwilling to put the money into maintenance, with tenants suffering as a result. I accept there will need to be constitutional advice from the Attorney General around the balancing of rights between landlords and tenants.

Eviction has already been raised during this debate, and I will do so again. We need to tackle the mindset around eviction in this country. I was astounded to receive an email at the weekend on a serious matter of a threatened eviction of an elderly lady who happens to be the mother of a senior journalist with Midlands 103. That family sent an email to the Minister, Deputy Donnelly, about this situation but have not received a response. The case is not in the remit of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage but I ask that he intervene. There are questions to be answered. We must also make sure HIQA is doing what it is supposed to do about nursing homes. Evictions are a cultural problem that do not only exist in our housing sector but also other residential areas such as nursing homes where it is now being threatened. I hope the Minister for Health will act on it but I am raising it here because it is so serious.

My constituency of Laois-Offaly has grappled with rising rents. I have been calling for an extension of the rent pressure zones and I previously welcomed the designation of Tullamore as a new rent pressure zone in the last year or so but we must do more to tackle rents. Many young couples cannot afford to buy a house and do not qualify for a Rebuilding Ireland home loan. They are falling between two stools because they do not qualify for social housing. We need affordable housing schemes in the county and to ensure every area of the State is looked after. I appeal to the Minister to ensure that young couples are given a fair chance to buy their first home. We need measures that will bring about housing solutions and affordable housing.

I thank Deputy Ó Broin for tabling this Private Members' motion. I absolutely concur that the rental and housing crisis continue to spiral out of control. The new affordable housing Bill mentioned in the Minister's countermotion is a new plan with the same problems as previous plans. It regurgitates earlier plans, is developer led and investment fund led. There is a bit of tinkering around the edges in regard to cost-rental, which I welcome, although it depends on the basis of it in relation to salaries, council housing, shared equity, over which there is a big question mark, Part 5 and affordable housing at €450,000 in Dublin and €400,000 in Cork. How the Minister thinks that workers on an average industrial wage can afford housing on €450,000 is beyond me.

It will not work. In essence, it is the same old policy that is responsible for the crisis because it relies on the private sector. We have the ability to resolve this crisis. We did it before in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s when there was a massive council house building programme, which provided homes, affordable rents and security of tenure, including passing on tenancies to the next generation. People who lived in these council estates regarded their house as their home, a place to live in and raise a family. It makes me squirm when I hear estate agents, auctioneers and politicians talking about people getting a foot on the property ladder. The average working person is not thinking about rising up the property ladder but about an affordable home with security of tenure. The solution is for the State to play the leading role, not the market.

Several years ago, as I have said before, the architect Mr. Mel Reynolds estimated there was a sufficient amount of already-zoned public land to build 100,000 units. What is needed is a national State housing agency tasked with building those 100,000 units over a ten-year period. These units could be built using direct labour, with trade union pay and conditions and with the employment of apprentices. There is an unemployment rate of 60% among those between 18 and 24, if those currently on the PUP are included. This is another crisis in the making as we move out of the pandemic.

The public housing units could be built as a mix of affordable, cost-rental and traditional council housing to cater for those on the waiting list and those whose income exceeds the limit under which they would qualify for council housing. This would ensure mixed tenure, construction of good quality with an emphasis on carbon dioxide reduction, and good facilities, such as crèches, community facilities and public transport. This would be a truly radical solution and game-changer. If 40,000 units were built in the first five years, it would dramatically affect the housing market and help to lower rents in the private sector.

The Minister talks about supply for couples who wish to rear their families. In Dublin 12, in Drimnagh alone, there are three sites I wish to refer to. On the old Dulux site, Davitt Road, 265 units of one- and two-bedroom build-to-rent apartments are being built. There is an application before An Bord Pleanála concerning a nine-storey development with 200 one- and two-bedroom build-to-rent apartments. The same developer, Durkan, applied just last Friday for permission for another development, of four blocks of ten storeys, on the old Eason site at Brickfield Drive, with 282 one- and two-bedroom apartments. These are not for families to put down roots in. They are for transient, HAP and other forms of renters. Therefore, the Minister is not including in the legislation protections that allow for the building of family homes in which people can put down roots and protections than ensure community gain, including through crèches, necessary community services and infrastructure that is needed to cater for these developments.

Between the Luas stops at Suir Road Bridge and Bluebell, there is the potential to build 1,418 units for 4,500 people. Along with these, greater infrastructure, community facilities and services are needed. That has not been dealt with through legislation or the Minister's housing plan. The units, we are aware, will likely be HAP units, not family homes, as I said.

An international pension investor interested in the Player Wills and Bailey Gibson sites has got planning permission for the Bailey Gibson site. The process for the Player Wills site, involving build-to-rent and co-living units, is ongoing. There are to be over 1,000 one- and two-bedroom apartments. This is not planned housing. This is not building a planned city but building transient living facilities for certain parts of society. These apartments will cost a minimum of €2,000 to rent.

Let me expose another aspect of the bad planning the Minister is standing over. In Dublin 8, 15 student developments have been built. Applications are in and the rent is to be €2,000. Hotels are being built but we are not getting affordable housing within communities. The applications and builds are actually breaking and changing the fabric of the communities in the areas affected.

At Mullen Park, Maynooth, Round Hill Capital bought 135 of the 170 homes that were built. This is absolutely disgraceful. The members of the Government are the very ones who brought in the legislation to allow investment funds to avail of tax breaks without stamp duty, corporation tax or capital gains tax. Overnight that could be changed to stop what is happening or, as another Deputy said, give power back to the people in accessing homes.

The Minister made reference to the challenge of private landlords in regard to a cap on rents in Berlin, yet when we raise the fact that Germany has barred the investment trusts, it is ignored completely.

I have one last point. I am disappointed that the Minister has left because we are in very difficult circumstances. Consider the case of a young lady who rang me recently after a rent review with her landlord. She has been paying €1,653 for a one-bedroom apartment in the Abberley apartment block in Tallaght. It has been increased to €1,730.22. When the lady originally moved in, it was €1,500. She came from a position of homelessness. She is on a homeless HAP, which is capped at €990. The Government has brought in legislation to allow landlords in the rent zones to increase rents by 4% every couple of years, yet it has made no provision for the homeless HAP payment to be increased by 4% to match them. I am absolutely opposed to lining landlords' pockets but if the Government is to introduce legislation to allow them to increase rents by 4%, it must allow the tenants to avail of supports of the same nature. I raised this at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Social Protection, Community and Rural Development and the Islands this morning. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul is now very concerned that we will see more people losing the homeless HAP and having to go back into homelessness. It made the point that there must be a plan for homelessness prevention. That is key. When the young lady who contacted me contacted the HAP section, she was told to renegotiate the top-up with her landlord or else avail of the opportunity to move to the ordinary HAP. It is impossible to get anything with one bedroom for €650 in Dublin at this moment. I want the Minister to say he will do something about this and prevent the tenant in question and others like her from seeing rent increases. The young lady has told me she cannot afford the increase, which is due on 6 June, and that she will be homeless again if it happens. People are facing stark experiences. The Government is responsible and should respond.

As the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, stated at the outset, to give this topic the attention it deserves would take more than is available to us today so many actions will speak a lot louder than words. I genuinely welcome the opportunity that has been provided by Deputies to discuss the private rental sector. I look forward to debating this topic further when the Government publishes its Housing for All plan and again when the Minister introduces the housing and residential tenancies Bill.

The Government believes everybody should have access to good quality housing to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard and located close to essential services offering a high quality of life. The programme for Government, Our Shared Future, sets out the priorities in the area of housing over the coming years that will be given impetus by a clear plan of action under Housing for All. As already discussed, the Minister intends to publish a housing and residential tenancies Bill before the year's end to address, inter alia, comprehensive protections for tenants, balanced with constitutional property rights in relation to the current rent predictably measure, as well as tenancies of indefinite duration, subject to the advice of the Attorney General.

In the time I have remaining, I will address some of the other topics raised in today's motion. On housing standards, the motion implies, quite incorrectly, that the Government is not providing appropriate funding to local authorities to monitor and inspect accommodation standards in the sector. The motion contends also that the quality of rental stock is very poor and it quotes poor compliance rates in Dublin city as evidence for this. However, the statistics are taken out of context. The reality is that local authorities, on a risk-assessment basis, target the most problematic properties as part of their inspection programmes. Hence, to extrapolate that this non-compliance rate applies to the whole sector is simplistic and wrong.

The Department has made an increased budget of €10 million available to local authorities this year to aid increased inspections of properties and ensure greater compliance with minimum standards. This amounts to a 400% increase in funding in just three years and would in normal times allow councils to inspect up to 25% of all properties in the State each year. I say "in normal times" because, of course, the pandemic has had an impact, but I am happy to say the sector has been innovative in piloting virtual inspections, which the Department has been quick and happy to back with funding. The issue of an NCT-type certification has also been raised by a number of bodies in the past, most notably Threshold. Establishing and rolling out such a certification system for private rented dwellings, however, would have a significant resource implication for local authorities and the Local Government Management Agency.

On Friday last, the latest details on the number of people who are in homelessness were published. The monthly homelessness report for March and the homelessness progress report for the first quarter of 2021 were both published by the Department. The number of individuals presenting to homelessness services and the number of people accessing emergency accommodation have continued to decline. This follows a trend first established in the first quarter of 2019. Despite the positive trends, the number of people experiencing homelessness is still a major concern for me and the Government. Over the past year, substantial progress has continued on prevention work by supporting families and individuals at risk of homelessness and reducing the numbers accessing emergency accommodation. This must continue in earnest. A great deal of work has yet to be done.

While the various protections introduced in the rental market linked to the national Covid-19 response have contributed to the reduction in homelessness, the reduced numbers are also a result of the significant work and investment that has been undertaken, and I thank all our NGO and housing delivery partners in this regard. With the phased easing of the public health restrictions under way, the blanket moratorium on evictions has been replaced by more targeted protections for those most impacted by the pandemic and those who need them most. The Department is working closely with local authorities and tenancy protection services to ensure all resources will be brought to bear in guarding against any potential increase in homelessness. Local authorities and voluntary organisations have contributed greatly to addressing homelessness at a time when they are dealing with other major challenges in society. The Government has taken a lead role in providing investment and support and this will continue in the period ahead.

I want to be cautious as we look towards the future in seeking to maintain the gains we have made. While there has been strong progress, there is much work to be done in increasing the supply of housing and the delivery of social and affordable homes. The investment is in place and we are prioritising this work for the remainder of 2021 and beyond. There appears to be a suggestion from the Opposition that the Government favours institutional investors and bigger landlords in its policies. Our approach to this sector is not ideologically driven. It is driven simply by the desire to increase the supply of housing available to rent in the right places at the right price and as quickly as possible. Large-scale investment in property in appropriate locations has an important role to play in helping to deliver the professional, high-standard rental sector tenants deserve, but institutional investors occupy a small share of the residential housing market, with more than 96% of landlords having five tenancies or fewer. Historically, the private rented sector in Ireland has largely comprised small-scale landlords. They will continue to provide the bulk of private rented accommodation and the Government remains committed to working with them. Nevertheless, the Irish housing market benefits from a share of larger, institutional landlords investing in high-density developments, boosting supply.

As for recent concerns about institutional investment in housing estates, the Minister is reviewing planning law to protect first-time buyers, ensure a level playing field for purchasers and make sure investment goes where it is most needed. A range of steps has been taken to facilitate the sale of housing for first-time buyers through the serviced sites fund, the local infrastructural housing activation fund, the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, an expanded help-to-buy scheme, the Land Development Agency and, more recently, new affordable purchase measures. Institutional investors have the potential to provide significant investment in the residential housing supply at scale. While it is important to facilitate such investment through appropriate regimes, it is equally important to ensure that where such investment brings a profit, a fair share is paid in tax. Officials from both the Department of Finance and Revenue are continuing to monitor the taxation of IREFs and REITs. Revenue continues to analyse returns by both IREFs and REITs and has measures available to it in the event of any non-compliance. Should any additional measures be identified, further action will be taken as necessary.

I am sharing time with Deputies O'Reilly and Ó Broin.

Let me make it clear: the housing crisis is not an accident. It did not happen as the result of some mysterious market forces. We need to call a spade a spade in this House. This housing crisis has happened as a result of the deliberate policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. We just have to look at the impact it is having on first-time buyers, who have been locked out of the market because Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have designed a taxation system that allows international vulture funds to scoop up these properties at a very high cost, pushing up house prices for everybody. The Minister of State took to his feet and said the Department of Finance is monitoring the taxation of these funds. There is not much monitoring needed, however, because these funds do not pay any tax on the sky-high rents they charge the citizens of this city and throughout the State. They do not pay any capital gains tax when they flip the assets in the future, with the uplift that results from that. They pay very little stamp duty, and not the 7.5% that any other company needs to. That is not a loophole. It was deliberately designed by the Minister of State's party and Fianna Fáil over successive Finance Bills.

The Government did not just wake up today and figure out this was a problem, given that we in Sinn Féin have been raising this issue for the past five years. We have tabled amendment after amendment to close these tax advantages and to allow a level playing field for first-time buyers. As late as last year, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party voted against ensuring these funds would not be provided with that tax advantage. We have heard the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, say these are only small fears and the Government will monitor the situation. He should tell that to the people in Maynooth who desperately hope they will get onto the property ladder but who see the vulture fund come in and swoop 135 houses from right under their noses because the Government facilitated it in doing that. These advantages have to end now. Let us wake up because this will be the story of 2021. Investment fund after investment fund will buy large swathes of new estates, locking out future generations from home ownership, not by chance or an accident but because of the deliberate policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and despite numerous attempts by Sinn Féin to close these loopholes and advantages.

The motion should be supported by the House. We need to reduce rents by freezing them and putting a tax rebate of one month's rent into people's pockets, increase investment in public housing and bring an end to the tax advantages these vulture funds have been given by the Minister of State's party and Fianna Fáil over recent years.

I thank my colleague, an Teachta Ó Broin, for bringing forward this important motion. The motion nails the issue of the rental crisis, namely, the lack of solutions from successive governments, and outlines the only true solutions that can rectify it. We need to look past the statistics and figures to the fear, depression and hopelessness, particularly of our young people caught in this rental trap. They are distraught by the current circumstances, of course, but they are also exhausted by the failures of successive governments to address this crisis, which has been going on for more than a decade. When Fine Gael and the Labour Party were in government, we were told the crisis could not be fixed overnight. Five years later, Fine Gael, in a confidence and supply agreement with Fianna Fáil, told us the crisis could not be fixed overnight. Now, Fianna Fáil is implementing all the same policies that Fine Gael did, telling us the crisis cannot be fixed overnight. They have had almost 4,000 overnights to get this right. How many more will it take?

It is patently clear to me and the young people caught in the rental crisis that it is not a lack of time that is the problem but the Government's total opposition, for ideological reasons, to implementing solutions that are necessary to fix this crisis.

To be honest, it would be a little bit unfair to heap all of this on the shoulders of the Minister, Deputy O'Brien. From his time as housing spokesperson during the confidence and supply agreement-supported Government, everyone knew he lacked any ambition or any real or well-thought-out ideas. He was always going to struggle. The few policies he had would, at best, be underwhelming and, at worst, be downright dangerous.

The conversation on housing this week has focused on the REITs that are purchasing properties in bulk to rent them out for excessive prices. That falls at the door of the Minister of State and his party, Fine Gael. It was they who laid out the red carpet for these vultures and scavengers that are going to keep young people trapped in the Minister of State's rental crisis. People have had enough. They are listening to the solutions being put forward by my party and others. They are sick of the Minister of State's rental crisis.

I would be embarrassed to read a statement like the Minister of State's to the Oireachtas because it was filled with so many factual inaccuracies. He has said that his Government is giving local authorities enough funding to allow 25% of private rental properties to be inspected every year. In 2019, the year before Covid, only 10% of rental properties were inspected. In fact, the percentage of properties inspected in most local authority areas was in the single digits. None of us knows whether the majority of properties are compliant because Government is not funding local authorities to inspect them. At the same time as saying that Government is giving local authorities money to inspect 25% of such properties, the Minister of State is saying we cannot have a certification system similar to the national car test, NCT, because of the revenue implications. If 25% of properties were to be inspected every year, compliant properties could be provided with an NCT-style certificate. Why not charge the landlord €40 for that certificate? It would be valid for four years and have to be renewed every fifth year. That would make the system revenue neutral.

The Minister of State announced the homeless figures from last Friday as if they represented some kind of success. Only a few weeks ago, he voted to strip renters of the very protection that drove these numbers down, the ban on evictions. While it may take some months, many front-line homeless service workers are genuinely concerned numbers will continue to rise. The Minister of State has also said large institutional investors are not favoured, but the mom-and-pop landlords renting out one property whom he says he supports pay tax on rents collected at an effective rate of 40% while those institutional investors pay absolutely nothing. If that is not favouritism for big landlords, I do not know what is.

With respect to the Minister's response earlier in the debate, some of the country's most leading constitutional law experts are on the record as saying they believe a three-year ban on rent increases would be constitutionally sound. If I were the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, I would be willing to go all the way to the courts to fight for the right of renters not to have their rents further increased.

The Minister also repeated his criticism of Sinn Féin for wanting to deliver 20,000 public homes a year, comprising social housing and housing that is affordable both to rent and to purchase. The very same Minister, when campaigning for election, promised the same thing. He said 10,000 affordable homes would be delivered every year for the lifetime of the Government, but he is now saying that is not deliverable. Of course, that is exactly what Fianna Fáil does during elections. How would we deliver those homes? We would dramatically increase capital investment, set targets for local authorities and fast-track developments such as those at Oscar Traynor Road, St. Michael's Estate and Clonburris. We would also make more aggressive use of vacant properties, acquisitions and turnkey properties not only to ensure more social homes but to ensure homes working people can afford to rent or buy.

Unable to provide an adequate defence of his failures both during the term of the confidence and supply arrangement and while Minister, Deputy O'Brien deliberately misrepresented Sinn Féin's affordable housing policy to this House. Under our policy, affordable rents would be affordable at €700 to €900 per month rather than the €1,300 or €1,400 this Government is presenting. Likewise, our homes for affordable purchase would be priced at €230,000 or less. The Minister is wrong; people would actually own those houses. They would be able to do with them what they want and to transfer them to their children or grandchildren. The difference between our party and Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party is we want to create an ever-growing stock of permanently affordable homes to be bought and sold by working people on modest incomes. We do not want those homes to be affordable to the first purchaser but then end up in the private rental sector or in the unaffordable private market.

The motion before us today is very straightforward. It calls for a radical break in policy towards the private rental sector. A three-year ban on rent increases is urgently required and should be supported. A refundable tax credit which would put a month's rent back in every renter's pocket is essential to undo the damage of ten years of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil failure in the private rental sector. Crucially, it calls for a major investment in the direct delivery of affordable cost rental housing on the scale the Economic and Social Research Institute, the National Economic and Social Council and the Housing Agency have called for. We estimate this would equate to 4,000 affordable rental units as part of the 20,000 public homes to be delivered every year. We also need to ensure proper standards and security of tenure for renters. Everything I have heard today shows once again that Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party cannot be trusted to stand by renters. Only the proposal Sinn Féin has put forward today to stand up for renters will tackle this rental crisis. The sooner this Government realises that, the better for us all.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the next weekly division time.

Sitting suspended at 1.57 p.m. and resumed at 2 p.m.