Ban on Rent Increases Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]

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

I am sharing time with a number of colleagues. The first legislation I introduced following my election to the Dáil was the Rent Certainty Bill 2016. At that stage, rents had been already rising sharply for two years. The purpose of that Bill was to link rent reviews to an index such as the consumer price index. As CPI was at virtually zero at that stage, that would have constrained rents and given renters a break. Unfortunately, on that night, on the floor of the Dáil, a coalition of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies defeated the Bill. Not once, but on five separate occasions during the course of the previous Dáil, legislation and amendments tabled by Sinn Féin and other Opposition spokespersons to do exactly that were blocked by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. The impact of those votes was very significant. Rents continued to spiral out of control and renters continued to be burdened with ever-increasing rents, not only placing themselves in enormous family hardship, but also damaging the local economy because that reduced the disposable income they had to spend on local goods and services.

The introduction of the rent pressure zones commencing in January 2017 did very little to constrain that rental inflation. Even though it was meant to cap rents at 4% annually, in and of itself too high, it did nothing of the sort. Many loopholes and little effective policing in the early stages of that regime meant that, for many renters, increases over the past four years have been in the region of 18% to 38%, depending on where they live. What that means in financial terms is that those renters who have experienced the burden of rent increases because of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael objections to rent certainty are today paying between €4,500 and €6,500 more annually than they would have paid otherwise had the Sinn Féin Bill been supported in 2016.

The problem now is rents are so high that linking them to inflation is not enough. That was a policy for four or five years ago, not for today. The reason for that is inflation is rising. The most recent figures from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, clearly show that the harmonised index of consumer prices rose by 1.9% last month and it is on an upward trajectory. For the overwhelming majority of renters, no rent increase - not 4%, 3% or 2% - is acceptable. It is for that reason Sinn Féin is retabling its ban on rent increases legislation.

The legislation is simple. It seeks to give renters a three-year breathing space by introducing an emergency ban on rent increases for three years. This is one of three key measures for which Sinn Féin has been arguing for a number of years. We also want to see rents reduced. We believe the quickest and most legally sound way of doing this is a refundable tax credit that would put a month's rent back into the pocket of every renter. We also need to see dramatic increases in direct State investment in affordable cost rental to deliver somewhere in the region of, on average, 4,000 affordable cost rental units annually with rents of somewhere between €700 and €900 per month, depending on size and location.

There are two arguments that were made against rent certainty when we introduced it and there are two arguments that are often made against a ban on rent increases. The first is that it will discourage new supply in the market. I do not accept that, particularly given the scale of investment we are advocating for cost rental. The idea that a private investor could not make a reasonable return where rents are at the highest point since the Celtic tiger era, or higher, makes no sense.

There is also an argument that it could be unconstitutional. Again, eminent professors of constitutional law in Trinity College have debunked this. In addition, we had a two-year ban on rent increases before, introduced by Fine Gael and the Labour Party. If that was constitutional, a three-year ban would also be.

Our rental system is broken. Renters simply cannot take any more. Linking rents to inflation is the wrong policy at this point. We need something much more dramatic and much more urgent. That is why an emergency three-year ban on rent increases, coupled with the other policies I have outlined, is the only approach that will give renters a break. Any Deputy in this House who wants to stand up for renters has no other choice but to support this Bill, which I commend to the House.

For years, we in Sinn Féin, led by Deputy Ó Broin, have called for a rent freeze to stop rents, which are already out of control, from increasing further and further hammering young people. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and vested interests including property speculators have allowed the so-called housing market to dictate how much money can be taken from a young person's salary to secure a roof over his or her head. Their policies have robbed our young people of hope. These parties' unwavering defence of the property market rather than young people sent those young people to transform politics at the last election and to demand change but they still did not take the message. They cobbled together an unwanted three-party coalition that has maintained the status quo. Rents are out of control and the Government is showing blind loyalty to the institutional landlords that are sucking the life out of our young people for profit. The Minister told us that a rent freeze could not be introduced and that it would be unconstitutional. Covid changed everything, however. Overnight, the Government rightly introduced a rent freeze, which proved that its refusal to introduce a rent freeze was driven by policy.

Young people will be watching this debate tonight. In the week of a by-election, the issue of the housing crisis is being raised at door after door. These young people will eagerly await the outcome of this debate. The Minister can stand on the side of young people. He can support this legislation and introduce a rent freeze for three years. He can finally tell the housing market that his Government is taking a stand and intervening at last. Alternatively, he can vote it down. That is his choice. Young people are not fools. Change will come and the Government will not be able to stop it. It tried the last time but the realignment of Irish politics will continue and Sinn Féin and young people will be at the centre of it.

Rents in Cork city, one of the Minister's rent pressure zones, rose by 6.3% in the last 12 months despite a ban on rent increases being in effect for five months during that time. This figure proves that rent pressure zones do not work and have never worked. The average rent in Cork city is €1,483 per month. In 2020, people on the minimum wage took home an average of €363 a week. How are people supposed to live like that? How can the Minister sit by, watch people living on such low incomes and then say it is okay for rents to increase by 8% this year? Does he realise how many people are struggling to live and are living week-by-week? Does anyone in this Government ever take a minute to consider what it feels like to be constantly worried that today is the day on which the letter will come telling one that one's rent is going to be increased and that, if one cannot pay, one will lose one's home? Sinn Féin's Bill would give people some peace of mind and security. Is that too much to ask for?

People say that the legacy of the last decade of Fine Gael government is a generation of renters. The legacy of this Government will be its absolute failure to tackle investment funds. One of the largest investment funds in this State took in almost €30 million in rent last year. Ordinary people have struggled over the last 12 months but we should not worry because, thanks to this Government's complete failure to tackle the rental crisis, this investment fund increased the amount of rent it received in 2020 by €2 million. While ordinary people struggle to get by, the Government having stripped them of any protections or safety, investment funds are increasing their turnover. This is what Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have done to this State and to ordinary renters.

I will use my time to talk about rents outside of the rent pressure zones. I refer to places in my constituency such as Roscommon town and Ballinasloe, County Galway. Rents in County Roscommon have increased by more than 9% in the last year alone, with the average rent now €783 per month and continuing to rise. The average rent in Ballinasloe is €743, which is an increase of almost 8% on this time last year. However, in many cases, rents are much higher. County Galway is one of eight counties in which the average rent countywide is more than €1,000. These are not big urban areas but rural towns in the west of Ireland. The 2016 census showed that the majority of people living in towns like Ballinasloe are renters who are either renting privately or through the local authority. Those tenants renting privately have few or no protections. I have been contacted by people in Ballinasloe whose rents have increased by between €200 and €300 in one go. What are we to say to these workers and their families? Where rents are increased, tenants have no choice but to struggle on, paying more. They have no other option. A constituent put it to me that there was nowhere else to rent in town and that they could not afford to save a deposit.

Supply is also a major issue. As I stand here this evening, there is one one-bed apartment available to rent in Roscommon town. In Ballinasloe, there are two. That is it. People are being trapped. They are paying extortionate rents, which are still rising, and are unable to save a deposit for a house. This is particularly impossible for young people starting out. On top of increasing rents, we saw a EUROSTAT report last month which showed that goods and services are the joint second most expensive in all of Europe. Irish prices for housing, heating and light are the highest in Europe at 78% above the EU average. Now is therefore exactly the right time to ban rent increases. There was nothing in what the Minister announced last week with regard to rents that will help a single renter in constituencies like mine.

When the Tánaiste accused Sinn Féin of promising free housing, he exposed the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael ideology-driven agenda that lit the embers of the housing crisis and fanned the sparks, leading to the catastrophe we witness in every community in this State. This catastrophe means that most young people cannot even dream of ever owning their own home. I grew up in a council house. It was never a free house. Rent was paid in line with the income coming into the house. The State bought an asset and it was paid back in spades. Public house building was an investment that benefited all within society. Those who needed help were able to get it, those who wanted to rent were able to do so affordably and those who had relatively good incomes were able to purchase or build at a reasonable price with a good expectation that the property's value would rise in a steady but stable manner. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments decided to change tack not because they were opposed to free houses, but because they wanted to make housing a speculative commodity. In fact, these governments did provide free houses but only to vultures, cuckoo funds and speculators. Last year, the Government handed €800 million in subsidies to private landlords. This year, the figure is set to top €1 billion. That is not even to mention the tax breaks, loopholes and sweetheart deals. The Minister is providing free gaffs all right, but he is giving them to the very people who are fleecing our renters across the country. This catastrophe was a long time in the making.

It will take a long-term strategy and policy approach such as that presented by Deputy Ó Broin to resolve it. We need proposals to help those at the coalface of the natural outworkings of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael policies. They are policies of boom and bust cycles, homelessness and out-of-control rent prices. Deputy Ó Broin is bringing forward the proposals that will make a difference. This Bill has been brought forward because it is what renters need. It is an opportunity for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Deputies to recognise the crisis of their making and the catastrophe that is visiting families the length and breadth of this State. This Bill is an opportunity to turn the tide and recognise, once and for all, that our renters need a break. It will provide that break.

I commend my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on bringing forward this Bill. It is timely and necessary. Government policy continues to drive up the price of rents. They are now in excess of anything anyone can afford, as are house prices. In many senses, it seems to be mission accomplished for the Government.

In my home county of Galway, rents have increased by 6% on last year, while rent for a double room in Galway city has increased by a massive 16%. The rent pressure zones, RPZs, the Minister's predecessor introduced were always likely to fail and now we have ample evidence for this. They were supposed to limit increases in certain areas to 4% a year but, as Threshold CEO John-Mark McCafferty pointed out, Galway city is a designated RPZ and rents for double rooms have increased 16% over the past year. Mr. McCafferty said this "is yet more evidence that the RPZs are not being adhered to’.

Deputy Ó Broin's Bill seeks to amend section 19 of the Residential Tenancies Act by capping the current rent on new and existing tenancies for three years. In Galway city, not far from where I live in Mervue, a build-to-rent apartment block is being developed. We know these funds are investing in property to make the maximum return, which means more sky-high rents for tenants and pricing local people out of the market. The Minister for Finance decided to exempt these funds from the 10% stamp duty charge that was supposed to deter them from these kinds of bulk purchases. This was done against the advice of his top civil servants and will mean more bulk purchases by investment funds and ever-climbing rents for ordinary working people in Galway city who cannot afford to live or buy in the city. That is not good enough. Policy after policy by this Government excludes people in Galway from renting and buying in their local areas. We saw the same disregard for the former top civil servants of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the ESRI and the Central Bank, who said the shared equity scheme would push up prices. It is not good enough. We need action now. This is a good Bill and should be supported by Government.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which is about easing the pressure on renters by bringing in a three-year rent freeze. It can be done, as has been shown during Covid. We have witnessed a massive escalation in rental costs across the country, including Laois-Offaly, over the past decade. People need a rent freeze to give them a break.

Since 2013, rents in County Laois have increased by 85.4% and in County Offaly by 67.2%. Those are whopping increases by any standards. This surge in rental costs has put an incredible burden and stress on families and workers struggling to keep a roof over their heads. This has consequences for the health services and a range of other services in the State. Figures recently released by Daft.ie outline that, despite Covid, rents went up by 6.6% in Offaly and 3.4% in Laois in the past 12 months. Increasing rents also drive up house prices, as they make it more attractive to landlords to buy and rent them, which pushes out couples and single people who want to buy a home, get going in life and secure a roof over their head.

Sinn Féin proposes a range of measures to tackle the housing crisis. This rent freeze is one part of our plan. We would also introduce tax credit of 8.5% to put a month's rent into renter's pockets and ease the pressure. We would increase capital investment to roll out affordable-to-purchase and cost-rental homes at a significant scale. There are no affordable to-rent or to-buy homes in Laois or Offaly, nor are there plans to supply them, unfortunately. This needs to change. The Government appears to have no plans for renters or solutions for those looking to buy a home at an affordable price.

The problem facing us of pensioners who will be forced to rent privately without sufficient income is also worrying. This is coming down the track quickly. A generation of people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have missed out on the opportunity to buy a home or secure a local authority home. How does the Government intend to provide them with secure housing as pensioners? Will HAP and rent subsidies be introduced with more taxpayers' money being thrown into the pockets of landlords? Is that the solution? We need to face this head-on.

Sinn Féin is putting forward a range of solutions, one of them this evening, to the housing crisis. We hope the Government and other Deputies will back these.

I move amendment No. 1:

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

“Dáil Éireann resolves that the Ban on Rent Increases Bill 2021 be deemed to be read a second time this day 12 months, to allow for the Government’s Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021, which is due to be enacted shortly and which will provide a change from the 4 per cent per annum rent increase restriction in Rent Pressure Zones to a rent increase restriction requiring that any rent increase cannot exceed the percentage rate of general inflation, to take effect.”.

I will explain the rationale of the amendment as I respond to the Bill. I thank Deputy Ó Broin for bringing forward the Bill again and providing me with an opportunity to outline the actions Government has taken so far in a 12-month period to protect renters. I regret that some of his colleagues have used the opportunity to attack without trying to advance their position. That is fine. One would have previously questioned, as to the timing of the tabling of this Bill, whether it was about renters or about Sinn Féin and the by-election due to be held on Thursday. Having said that, to be fair to Deputy Ó Broin, he has tabled this legislation previously, as recently as last year. I will address it in my response.

I will bring forward further rent reform legislation in the autumn. The Government has tabled a timed amendment to this Bill and will consider it again on Second Stage in 12 months when the impact of the new legislation I have brought forward in respect of increased restrictions by the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021, which passed unanimously last night in Seanad Éireann, has been given time to be felt on the ground. I expect that replacing the current 4% cap on annual rent with general inflation will result in far lower increases for an estimated three quarters of all tenancies in the RPZs. This significant reform will be felt by those renters who are struggling, including individuals, families and pensioners. I speak to these people every day, as I am sure many Deputies do. They are fed up of the insecurity and many would prefer to own their own home. That is why the affordable housing legislation the Government is progressing simultaneously is so important. It provides for a new cost-rental model whereby tenants will pay a minimum of 25% below market rents for secure tenancies. It also provides a pathway to home ownership for those currently paying rents, stuck in a rent trap and who want to get out of it.

The timed amendment we have tabled clearly demonstrates that Government is open to reviewing the position 12 months down the road in consultation with stakeholders and taking any legal advice from the Attorney General. The facts remain the same. A ban on rent increases alone will not increase the supply of rental accommodation. It may have the reverse effect. Supply is a key constraint across public and private. We are addressing that in our housing for all plan. Rents rise when demand outstrips supply.

I am sure Members of all parties and none can agree that, judging from the past 12 months, the Government has been responsive in tackling rental issues. In less than a year, we have enacted four rent protection Bills, backed by financial support to help protect the most vulnerable renters from the impact of the pandemic. A fifth Bill, as I mentioned, is currently making its way through the Oireachtas and I expect it to be passed this Thursday. This demonstrates the seriousness and speed with which the Government is determined to protect renters. The Bill we are bringing forward this week represents the most significant change in rental terms for at least five years.

To stay within the law and serve the sector well, we need to strike a balance between restricting the level of rents tenants are paying and keeping ordinary landlords in the system. We have discussed many times in the House the unintended or, indeed, intended consequences of supply being reduced in the sector, which will further exacerbate the problem. However, some of those who have spoken on behalf of the Sinn Féin Bill have simply ignored that fact because it does not suit their narrative. We must have legislation that is appropriate, based in reality and legal, and that is what we are doing. I will bring forward further measures in the autumn and I propose to keep this Bill under review.

I welcome the support of Members of all parties and none for the changes I have made thus far, which will have an immediate and positive impact. We also firmly need to increase the supply within the sector by way of the provision of affordable rental housing, affordable purchase homes and public homes. The new rent restrictions will take effect upon the passing of the new Bill this week and will result in far lower increases for an estimated three quarters of all tenancies. The harmonised index of consumer prices has shown an average increase of 0.73% over the past three years. The new measure will be impactful for the people experiencing difficulties. As I said, all Senators agreed to the provisions last night. The Sinn Féin response to the Government's amendments to reform the operation of the RPZs is to reintroduce a Bill that has been debated a number of times and does not address some of the legal questions that have been raised in respect of its provisions. Nevertheless, it deserves to be looked at in more detail. We will examine both responses on Second Stage in 12 months but I will quickly respond to them now.

Section 2 proposes to ban increases in rent for existing and new tenancies for three years. Specifically, it proposes that, for existing tenancies, no rent increase will be allowed for three years. For new tenancies, the new rent would be set in line with the RTB rent index for equivalent dwellings in that local electoral area and no increases would be allowed for three years. The ban on rent increases would be subject to an annual review. The Government's response is more comprehensive and targeted. We recognise that some landlords also find themselves on the wrong side of the Covid-19 pandemic. I have heard the main Opposition spokesperson discuss that on many occasions but it does not appear to be recognised in any of the legislation brought forward by his party.

We also must recognise the protected property rights that are in place. Building on the urgent Covid-19 rental protections introduced by Government, the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020 provided for temporary modifications to the operation of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, subject to certain conditions, such that for a period from 11 January to 12 July 2021, a 90-day, rather than 28-day, termination notice applies where a tenant is in rent arrears due to the Covid-19 pandemic and at risk of losing his or her tenancy. The earliest termination date allowed in such circumstances is 13 July 2021. We have now gone further than that by bringing forward proposals, which we hope will have the support of everyone in this House, to extend further, right through to 12 January 2022, the protections for tenants affected most by the Covid-19 pandemic and at risk of losing their tenancy. Some speakers have said we brought no measures forward on rent but they have supported four of the five Bills I introduced. I have also replaced the current cap of 4% on annual rent increases. Rents will only be able to go up, if necessary, in line with general inflation, as recorded in the harmonised index of consumer prices. I will expand on this further in the House on Thursday night, when we debate the Seanad amendments to the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021.

The Government is helping tenants. They are important and we want to protect them and ensure their tenancies are more secure. We will do further work on that in the autumn. Taking account of that, we need to ensure everybody in the sector is treated fairly. I do not believe Sinn Féin's Bill would ultimately help renters. The temporary fix proposed in the Bill would negatively impact on supply and lead to a further loss of individual landlords. Whether people want to admit it, landlords are needed in the sector until we are providing more public homes, cost-rental housing and affordable purchase homes. The exit of more landlords from the market will place further pressure on future rents. The measures in the Bill that passed in the Seanad last night, and which I hope will be passed by this House, provide a timely, effective and proportionate response to help the most vulnerable tenants impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. As I said, that Bill represents the most significant change to rental terms in at least five years and is the fifth Bill I have brought forward to protect renters.

I thank the Deputies who have used their time to put forward the Bill we are debating as, in their belief, part of the solution to the problems we face. There is no single, silver-bullet solution to rents. There are many solutions and a multifaceted approach is required. That is what the Government is doing. A realistic way of dealing with this would be to assess, over a 12-month period, how the measures we hope to pass tomorrow night, with the support of Deputies across all parties and none, are taking effect. We must have a proportionate response that is not going to impact on supply in the market.

I am sharing time with Deputies Munster, Ellis and Cronin. Regarding the Minister's amendment to the Bill, the people will recognise the can being kicked down the road again. Unfortunately, unlike him and most of us in the House, they cannot wait 12 months. Their rent is due every month. The Minister's do-nothing attitude this evening will not help anyone, but our Bill will help everyone. The Bill, if implemented, will ensure that rents on existing tenancies will be capped at their rate on the date the new legislation is enacted. Rents on new tenancies will be set according to the RTB rent index. The ban on rent increases will run for three years, with an annual review built into the legislation. The Bill also makes provision for a refundable tax credit that would give renters back one month's rent.

I have lost count of the number of people who have contacted my office in despair about rent costs. They include parents who are desperately worried whether their adult children will ever get a chance to move out and rent their own accommodation, let alone buy their own home. Rents are too high and the extortionate rates people are being asked to pay are only rising. That is proven again by the latest daft.ie report. In Dublin West, the situation is shocking. In Waterville, Blanchardstown, for example, a one-bedroom property is available for €1,650 a month, a three-bedroom house in Castlewood, Hartstown is €2,200, a one-bedroom home in Rathborne, Ashtown is asking €1,800 and a three-bedroom property in Castlecurragh, Mulhuddart is available for €2,500.

Rents cannot be allowed to continue to rise year-on-year. The Minister cannot continue to use the Constitution as an excuse to avoid helping renters. The Covid pandemic exposed that lie. He must accept that the current crisis warrants a better response from Government. Unfortunately, what we have heard tonight amounts to a do-nothing response for another 12 months. Sinn Féin believes it is wholly reasonable to ban rent increases for three years. We believe it is fair to give hard-pressed renters a break from extortionate rent rises. We believe everyone deserves a home that is affordable, whether rented or purchased. I commend Deputy Ó Broin's Bill and urge the Government to change its position and support it.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which seeks to ban rent increases for all existing and new tenancies for three years. It is not news to anyone that we have a housing crisis and, within that, a private rental crisis. Rents have skyrocketed over a number of years.

In my home county of Louth, the average rent is now €1,311 per month but, in reality, the cost is between €1,400 and €1,600. Rents have increased by 4.7% in the past year. In County Meath, the average rent is more than €1,400, which is an increase of 4.9% in a year. In reality, people are paying anything from €1,600 to €1,800.

In fact, since their lowest point after the economic crash which, incidentally, was also caused by Fianna Fáil’s housing policy, rents in County Louth have increased by 114% and those in County Meath by 118%. That is crazy. Unfortunately, there is no end in sight. Rents continue to soar and the Government continues to look the other way. According to the most recent figures available from Daft.ie, the increase in the last quarter alone was 2.1% in County Louth and 2.5% in County Meath. Until this Government allows for the building of enough houses to deal with the demand that exists, rents will never fall. I have no confidence that the Government will build affordable houses, so we need this Bill to ensure rents cannot increase further for a period of three years.

The Bill is just one part of a suite of housing solutions Sinn Féin has put forward. The Government has refused to help renters. It has turned a blind eye to the issue and is hiding behind legal excuses as to why it will not act. We all know that the Minister and his Government colleagues are protecting their own - their developer friends and landlords. They always have done so and they always will. They could not care less that renters are being bled dry with extortionate rents month after month. We need this Bill as a protection for renters and I call on all Deputies, particularly Government Deputies, to adopt a backbone and, for once, put their constituents first, take a stand and support the Bill.

The current situation is that rental prices are, effectively, outstripping the cost of monthly mortgage repayments. That being the case, one might ask why a person would rent instead of buying. It is because house prices have risen so high that it is very difficult for most people to put together the deposit required for a house in the first place. This is an abnormal situation that indicates how broken and dysfunctional the property market is today. This generation is increasingly becoming one of people who will never be in a position to own a home and will be forever caught in a cycle of renting, with its resulting instability.

The reality is that many people who are now dependent on renting and are being faced with spiralling rental costs are no more than a missed rent payment away from being made homeless. Rent prices are moving beyond the reach of many. According to a report commissioned by Daft.ie, the national average monthly rent stood at €1,443 in the first quarter of 2021, up by 1.7% on the previous year and up almost 95% from the low of €742 a month in late 2011. However, rental prices in Dublin average €2,000 per month. The housing and rental market is like a pressure cooker and the increasing incursions by cuckoo funds into the rental sector in particular are adding fuel to the fire of an already volatile and unstable property market.

Those most affected by this dysfunctional property market will be those looking for housing and reasonable rental costs. The consequences of this dysfunction will be long housing waiting lists, homelessness and people not being able to get on the property ladder. Government policies on rent pressure zones have ensured that people on homeless HAP or housing HAP in recent years have been subjected to large increases in their HAP payments, in some cases amounting to up to 4% every two years. Such increases came about because landlords could avail of the rules in place for such zones that allowed them to put such increases onto tenants irrespective of inflation. The Bill seeks to give renters a break by freezing rents for three years and allowing them a tax credit equivalent to one month's rent. This will go some way to lifting the financial burden on hard-pressed renters and new tenants.

Time is up on this renting crisis. The same old political faces doing the same old thing just does not work. Even when people manage to find a place to rent, the rent they are expected to pay is out of control. The Minister has heard my colleagues say that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have had their chance. They had it, they took it and they blew it. They prefer to tinker around the edges of a housing crisis that is, in fact, a humanitarian crisis. Being able to afford a decent place to live is one of the most fundamental needs of human beings.

I encounter these issues day in, day out in my constituency of Kildare North. My constituency office in Naas is out the door with people trying to find out where they are on the Kildare housing list. Some of them have been waiting up to 15 years for housing. They would be very lucky to find even a three-bedroom property in north Kildare for less than €2,000. I see people’s pain and fear when they cannot afford a home. Homes are what people need in a decent, modern society guided by the true principles of republicanism, where the public's business is the most important business, coming before any political sector or business sector or profit.

I am proud of the Bill brought forward by Deputy Ó Broin. It is in the best traditions of republicanism and it is as far away as possible from the Government's survival of the fittest mentality that cheapens and degrades us all. The Bill looks after people and dignifies them and their lives. It does not cast them aside but, rather, raises them up. It will ban rent increases for three years for new and existing tenancies. This will bring security, peace of mind and the ability to plan ahead in renters’ lives, which is so important for families. On top of banning rent increases, it will make sure every renter gets a month’s rent back in their pocket through a refundable tax credit. It is about respect for renters.

Sinn Féin has a plan to fix the housing crisis and this legislation is just one step in that plan. The amendment tabled by the Minister is disappointing. I urge my constituency colleagues in Kildare North and all Deputies to come with us on the Bill for our people, their dignity and their future. Bígí linn.

The Minister is correct that there is no silver bullet for the housing or rental crises, but the Bill is a bullet. It is a very good Bill. It is short but it is potent and, if implemented, it will make a real difference. There is no reason why it should not be implemented. As Deputy Ó Broin, the proposer of the Bill, stated, a version of this has been done before. It is not unconstitutional to bring in a ban on rent increases. The Labour Party did so on two separate occasions while it was most recently in government, so it can be done.

The proposer of the Bill and all those who support it acknowledge wholeheartedly that it will not solve every single element of the rental crisis that is occurring within the housing crisis, but it will go a long way to providing some security and certainty. The next step would be to reduce rents. To freeze rents at the incredibly high rate is insufficient. Deputy Paul Donnelly, who may have left the Chamber, went through a list of rent prices in his constituency of Dublin West, where the rent prices are similar to those in my constituency. The rents that are now accepted as the norm are absolutely astronomical, such as €2,500 a month for a modest three-bedroom home in a suburb of Dublin or another major city.

The rental crisis may be concentrated and most dramatic in cities but it is in every county in the State. In every village and hamlet there are manifestations of the rental crisis. It cannot be lost on any Member who is in any way connected to his or her constituency just how dramatic the rental crisis is. I receive daily phone calls, emails and social media communications about it. I recently restarted my advice clinics post Covid. The first constituent to come through the door was there regarding the rental crisis. The constituent in question is a non-EU citizen, a worker paying a high rent of €1,200 a month and working seven days a week not only to pay the rent but to raise a family and pay all their other bills. However, the family is now going to be the victim of a no-fault eviction because the landlord wants to sell the home. One search on daft.ie for a similar-size property in the area will show that the rent to be paid by that family will jump from €1,200 to more than €2,000. That is unaffordable without State supports. This individual, like so many others, will have to go through the very difficult and arduous application process for HAP. The family does not want to be on HAP but that is what they will have to do.

They do not even know if they will be entitled to it, but they are going to have to go through the process anyway. If they do not meet the threshold to qualify for HAP, they are going to have to make choices in their life which will diminish their standard of living to such a degree that the "E" word, emigration, is considered again. Those who have been connecting with their constituents, particularly anyone who has been campaigning in the Dublin Bay South by-election, where 44% of residents are renters, know that the word "emigration" is being used more consistently, not just by young people but by people who are renting. It was put to me very succinctly and directly by a man in Irishtown a few days ago. He told me that the last time we had a wave of emigration in this country it was because there was no work. Now there is work, but the work is not paying for people to be able to afford to live. Fundamental to that is the cost of providing a roof over a person or a family's head. Those who are most vulnerable to that are tenants. The beauty of this Bill is its simplicity and how concise and short it is. That is why it is potent. It cuts to the very heart of why people are so insecure and are worried about their future - not just in their home, but in their city and country.

Before the pandemic, it was estimated that one in ten households missed a rental payment due to financial difficulties. I am not an economist. I am not sure whether there are any such people in this room at the moment, but I think we can all make an educated guess that as the pandemic continues to be tackled, hopefully, and as we relax measures and try to move on, that number will jump. It will rise to a large degree. Significantly more than one in ten households will be missing a rental payment due to financial difficulties. Yes, these people may be working after the pandemic, but they will be working in insecure employment with low or middle incomes. Their rent will have increased to such a degree that they will not be able to afford to pay it. That is the reality of it. That is where this Bill is coming from.

As we have all said, this Bill is not a silver bullet. Last week, my colleagues, Senator Bacik, and our housing spokesperson, Senator Moynihan, launched our own renters rights Bill. There is a lot of overlap in Bills that are being proposed by the Opposition. Indeed, a very strong suite of Bills is being proposed by Members of the Opposition. When the current Minister was an Opposition Deputy in the not too distant past, he proposed Bills with contents that overlap with the Bills we are presenting now. I am sure Deputy Ó Broin and others who have drafted Bills to tackle the issue will agree that we need to remove no-fault evictions. We need to remove them straight away. If a person is paying their rent and adhering to the rules as per their tenancy agreement, they should not be allowed to be evicted. We need to remove the ground that allows a landlord to terminate a tenancy on the basis that they intend to sell the property within three months. That is an absolute nonsense. I am sick to death of seeing people evicted for that reason and seeing the property lie either vacant or, more often than not, unsold for it to go back on the rental market at a much higher rate to get new tenants in. That must stop. We must provide that landlords can only evict tenants for renovations when no reasonable measures can be taken to maintain the dwelling as fit for human habitation. It is another flimsy excuse that some improper landlords are using to remove tenants from their homes.

There are heartbreaking and truly sad stories out there of families investing in their rental properties. I am not talking about investing by putting chandeliers in halls or building extensions. I am talking about simple investments like painting a child's bedroom with the child, picking out a colour, asking them what colour they want for their big-boy or big-girl bedroom, getting a new bed, putting a few pictures up and perhaps putting a shelf up on which to place their special photos or toys. I am talking about those kinds of investments. They are investments that might cost €100 and a weekend of labour and fun, only for the family to receive a letter through the door on the Monday telling them that they have to be out within three months because the landlord is selling the house or wants to do renovations. It is absolute nonsense. It is breaking the hearts of people in this country who are just trying to live a modest life and are abiding by every single rule that is being asked of them. As a country, we cannot stand over this anymore. It has gone beyond partisan politics. There is a consensus of opinion in terms of what is happening out there. However, we are not reaching a consensus on the measures that need to taken from the Government side. It is holding back on the key measures that need to be introduced to stop events such as those I have described from happening. It breaks the hearts not only of the parents but also of the kids. Their parents have to tell them they are sorry and they know their room has been done up, but they have to move on. When the child asks to where they are moving, if they will be able to hang out with their friends, if they will have to move school and if they will stay in their new home forever, their parents will tell them they do not know. Their parents will tell them it is unlikely that they will stay in the new home and they may have to move all over again. It is absolutely scandalous. That is a word that is overused and which has perhaps lost all meaning. It is truly wrong, but it is what is happening right now in this country.

The Government should not kick the can down the road on this Bill. It is a simple, good Bill. It will help. Unfortunately, it is not going to pass because of this can-kicking measure that the Government is introducing. It is wrong.

I will start where Deputy Duncan Smith finished. He made a very good point about the impact on children whose parents are renting. It is what I have heard from parents who are renting and are subject to rent increases that they cannot afford or are given a notice to quit, an eviction notice. It is exactly as Deputy Smith described. Their children do not know if they are going to see their friends again, if they will see the other kids in the GAA club again or if they will have to move school. In some cases, it may have taken the children a long time to settle into school and make friends. The parents finally overcome all those hurdles and deal with all of that - it may have taken two or three years to get to that point - only to be served with a rent increase or an eviction notice and that is it. They cannot find another home in that locality and community and they have to move and start from scratch all over again. It is absolutely heartbreaking for those parents and their kids.

That is a matter of political choice. It is the system that is designed here and allows for that. In fact, it encourages and facilitates it. It is one of the things that goes to the heart of why the Bill that the Minister is talking about is so weak. We do not need 12 months to know what the impact of the legislation will be; we know what the impact is now. It has two impacts. It allows for rent increases at a time when we have some of the highest rents in Europe. At the same time, it allows for the loopholes that mean that people get evicted. It is exactly as Deputy Duncan Smith has described. It is the system of a landlord serving their tenants with an eviction notice, renovating the home, sometimes just by repainting it or whatever, and then increasing the rent by as much as they want. That is the system we have in place currently. It adds to all of that insecurity and heartbreak for families and children. It is a system that is not in any way defensible. It should be changed. We should have legislation on that now to shut down those loopholes.

I agree that the key challenge here is about how we get rents down. This Bill is a welcome step in that direction by providing for a rent freeze and rent certainty for the next three years, which will buy some time and give renters space. However, the challenge is how to reduce rents and get proper security for renters in this country, as is the norm in most other northern European countries. There is no reason we cannot do it now. In fact, rents are so high here and rental returns are so high that any arguments that changes here would affect investment are completely spurious. The rental sector in Ireland has tripled in size over the last 20-odd years. There is no issue with investment being affected there. We also know from rental yields, which are higher in Ireland than any other European country, that there is no issue or concern for people in terms of investing and the rental yields they receive.

They are way above the yields they would receive from bonds, deposits or other kinds of investments. Therefore, the arguments are highly spurious. They are also spurious because not only are the returns to investors on rent in Ireland so high but the capital investment alone probably justifies an investment given the significant increases in house prices. It is a win-win for anyone investing now. There has been an exodus by some landlords over recent years. That is mainly driven by debt resolution in respect of mortgages on buy-to-let properties in financial distress. In addition, as the properties of those who never intended to be landlords came out of negative equity, it was possible to sell them on. That has been the main driver. The investment by investment funds has distorted house prices.

The Minister referred to cost rental and the proposals that will be before us later this week. I have a serious concern related to cost rental. As stated explicitly by the Green Party before the last general election, since cost rental is not about profit but based on the cost of building and maintenance, rents should be set on that basis. Despite that, this Bill is allowing cost rental based on the cost of building and maintenance but also based on profit and equity returns. Allowing in the for-profit sector is not what the Green Party advocated before the election and it is not what cost rental is generally understood to be about. It is understood to involve a not-for-profit arrangement. Our ambition should not be to focus on having 25% of rents below market rates; what we should seek to achieve, given how rents are and how the objective could be met on a not-for-profit basis, is a rate around half the full market rate, certainly in the Dublin area. That is what the scale of our ambition should be.

On property rights, which the Minister raised, it is worth saying that previous Governments have argued against introducing measures to limit rent increases, claiming it would not be constitutional or that it would interfere with property rights. Over the years, under pressure, they have introduced such changes, including the RPZs and the 4% limit. We also saw the measures owing to Covid, including the temporary ban on rent increases and the ban on infections. We have now heard the announcement of a restriction based on the consumer price index. The current and previous Governments have proved, through their actions, under pressure, that measures to limit rent increases are, in fact, possible. There is ample legal opinion to the effect that the Government can act in the interest of the common good. That is constitutional.

Dr. Rachael Walsh of the school of law in Trinity College Dublin, in an article entitled “Housing crisis: There is no constitutional block to rent freezes in Ireland”, states:

There is significant scope in our existing constitutional order for property rights restrictions, the extent of which can be uncovered only through the introduction and testing of new measures.

[...]

[W]here a clear objective is identifiable for a restriction on the exercise of property rights that plausibly secures the common good and social justice and is procedurally fair, there is every chance of such legislation surviving constitutional challenge. There is no absolute right to begin or continue any profitable use of property guaranteed by the Constitution.

[...]

[W]e require judges to make difficult decisions about the fairness of the distribution of the benefits and burdens of collective life. Faced with this challenging task, they often defer to solutions to complex social problems that are arrived at through the democratic process.

Dr. Walsh's strong opinion is clearly that, in a democracy, the legislature has a right to legislate in the interest of the common good under the Constitution. In this regard, there are strong provisions that can be used. We have seen this in the various measures introduced over the years. It is a question of why the Government will not go far enough. It cannot be that the Minister is unaware that rents have almost doubled over the past decade and that he is unaware of the rental yields. It cannot be that he is unaware that only 26% of renters are renting by choice. He cannot be unaware that, according to the recent Threshold survey of renters, not a single respondent aged over 54 wants to be renting. The Government cannot be unaware that most renters are effectively trapped paying unaffordable rents when they want to own their own homes, and that they are simply unable to compete with investment funds that are bulk-buying homes. The Government cannot be unaware that 40% of renters do not feel secure and that 20% report having a bad relationship with their landlord.

According to the National Oversight and Audit Committee, NOAC, performance indicators report for 2009, just 10% of rented properties had been inspected in that year. Of the 10% of properties rented, 93% were not compliant. Therefore, people are paying incredibly high rents for properties that are, in the vast majority of cases, non-compliant with basic regulations.

The lack of action from the Government on this matter is not because it cannot address it legally. There are no credible excuses. We have a housing emergency. Unaffordable rent is one of the main reasons people who end up losing their homes end up homeless. They cannot afford rent in the private rental sector. Why is the Government not supporting this sensible Bill and saying it needs 12 months to know the reality of what is going on? It can see that reality now.

In answer to the last question, on why the Government has to wait 12 months to do anything, it parks everything for 12 months no matter what we bring before the House.

I welcome the Bill and thank Sinn Féin for introducing it. Watching the ongoing housing crisis, specifically the issues in the private rental sector, including those concerning tenants' rights, security of tenure and rent security over the past five years, has been akin to watching a train crash in slow motion in that everyone can see where we are heading, what will happen and the consequences, yet effectively nothing has been done to stop the crash and ameliorate its consequences. The Government, in its responses, has, at best, played the part of providing emergency services after the crash, in effect sticking a plaster repeatedly over a gaping wound.

One of the first things People Before Profit did when we were elected in 2016 was address this crisis, or attempt to do so, with a Bill. I am specifically referring to rents. We tried to get NAMA to prioritise the provision of public housing on public lands, to stop rent increases and reconnect rents with people's wages and inflation. We called our Bill the Housing Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, HEMPI, Bill. This was a deliberate play on the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest, FEMPI, Acts passed by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party and later by Fine Gael-Labour Party Government because we wanted to highlight the hypocrisy and double standards that surround the debates on rent freezes and rent issues generally. Let me remind those defenders of property rights present, namely those legal experts who faint when anyone mentions rent increase prohibitions, about the Constitution. The Constitution, or its protection of property rights, did not prevent major parties from dipping into the pensions of the public sector and other workers via the FEMPI Acts from 2010 onwards. They did not shirk behind constitutional niceties when it came to bailing out banks; they justified it by calling the Acts that permitted it emergency legislation. We had a financial crisis so we permitted the trouncing of private property rights, which is what pensions are. We have a housing crisis, a crisis that is blighting an entire generation and that sees families roaming our streets while trying to access emergency accommodation, record-breaking numbers sleeping rough and dying on our streets from homelessness, people terrified of the next rent increase or of receiving a notice to quit from their landlord, and gleeful prospective brochures from investment funds informing investors that circumstances can only get better, yet the same voices and Ministers who bravely ignored property rights when it came to the FEMPI legislation are vocal defenders of property rights when it comes to the housing crisis.

The constitutional argument is entirely bogus.

There have been many legal and constitutional experts who have stated this clearly, and I will not go over that again as we do not have time. The question is, however, why we have never attempted to do so until now? Why has this argument been used time and again to pretend we cannot legislate to protect people from the enormous burden current rents are having on them and their families?

We have pointed out before in this House the large and disproportionate number of Deputies who are also landlords and who have vested interests. Indeed, many are the same ones who pretend they are supporting ordinary people or poorer rural communities while also amassing millions in rents and other business ventures. That might be one reason, but I also believe it is deeper and goes to the very nature and foundation of this State.

The obsession with property rights lies at the heart of the nature of the elite and privileged in this country. Since the State's foundation, the elite and their public representatives in Fianna Fáil and in Fine Gael were different from other elites in other nations. They did not get their wealth and privilege from manufacturing or industry, by and large. The biggest source of wealth for the Irish elite has always been property. The fetish around property rights stems from that fact and from the material base that property and the wealth generated from property has played. Those days must end.

Change is coming. It is clear Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are being dragged into that. If we are to address the nature and causes of the housing crisis, however, we will need to push over the next few years. It will need a mass movement to tell the landlord parties the days of their rule are coming to an end, that people will not put up with a housing system built for developers and landlords or a private rental sector built for and on behalf of an elite and wealthy group, and that the housing system is there to provide a basic human right in an affordable and secure manner for all people in this country.

One final point on this issue is that this crisis in rental accommodation and housing generally is being used by far-right and fascist parties to spread hatred and division. We have seen this in the by-election and in material that claims we have a housing crisis because we have too many immigrants and not because we have too many greedy landlords and developers combined with the failures of political parties to address basic human rights. The far right has been allowed to do this with the cover of the Government. The Government parties have let them off the hook and have fallen hook, line and sinker into the trap of allowing others to be used as an excuse for hatred and division in this country, no more so than where landlords have been allowed to impose rent increases of up to 8% under the newly discovered loophole as the Covid-19 rent freezes end. Shame on this Government.

I thank Sinn Féin again for putting this Bill forward and for opposing any attempt by the Government to stop it going forward.

It has become fashionable in recent times for opponents of a rent freeze to say we should a look at what happened when they tried to freeze rents in Berlin. I am going to do precisely that.

Under the old neoliberal market status quo before the rent freeze in Berlin, rent had increased by 100% in the period 2009 to 2019. Under pressure from below, from a mass movement of tenants, the Berlin municipal government in early 2020 froze rents for a period of five years at mid-2019 prices. From November 2020, rents still above the mid-2019 price had to be reduced. The price of rent fell by an average of 7.8% for Berlin's 1.5 million renters in the course of the freeze.

Was there a corresponding negative in terms of renovation or modernisation for climate change, as opponents suggest? No, not really. According to the Berlin tenants' association there was a modernisation rate of 1% prior to the freeze so there is not much scope for any corresponding negative there.

Did the rent freeze cripple supply, which is the key argument of the opponents? According to Germany's largest property website, Immo Scout24, the number of rentals advertised did fall by 19% in 2020-2021. Properties for sale increased also by 23% if you look only at the properties impacted by the freeze. A minority were excluded. This attempt to exit the market by some landlords can be taken as a negative or it can be taken as a positive in that it was an opportunity to switch from for-profit landlordism to non-profit housing provision by way of municipal acquisition. The decision of the German Federal Constitutional Court to overturn the rent freeze this April has given a big boost to the campaign called Expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. This is a campaign to nationalise the properties of all landlords with 3,000 apartments or more. This proposal will now go to a referendum in September and I hope it passes.

In short, the Berlin rent freeze benefited 1.5 million tenants financially, had a negligible impact on modernisation, displaced the most profit-crazed landlords, could only be overthrown by an unelected court and opened the door to the possibility of state provision of housing with lower rents. Was this a negative experience? For some landlords it probably was but for renters this was far from the case. The example of the mass movement from below in Berlin should be emulated here and the example of the rent freeze, in going further, should also be emulated here. I support the Bill.

Deputy Fitzpatrick is sharing time with Deputy Tóibín.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I thank the Deputies who brought it to the House. As I have said many times, I welcome each and every opportunity to discuss the rental and housing crisis we face in this country. The rental situation in Ireland is now a crisis. In my constituency of Louth, house rent has never been higher as far as I can tell. In my home town of Dundalk it is normal for a standard 3-bedroom house to have a rent bill of between €1,300 and €1,700 per month. To put this in perspective, that is the equivalent of between €300 and €395 per week. This puts renting a home out of reach for most young couples.

The Bill before us calls on the Government to take a number of immediate actions that will help those caught in the rental trap. I would support a ban on rent increases if I thought for one minute it would help solve the rental crisis. To implement this, however, we must put in place the necessary legislation to protect renters.

When we look at mainland Europe, it is quite common to see people rent for all of their adult lives. This is not what we are used to here in Ireland but is it a case that we need to re-adjust 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 tenants and, for that matter, 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 the tenants and is one of the major issues as far as I am concerned.

We must be able to protect tenants and give certainty to the landlord. Why can we not look at implementing the proper legislation that will facilitate longer term tenancies which, in effect, could last an adult lifetime? We must support those tenants who need the support and not those who do not require such help. Again there would be challenges on how we implement this, but if we give this serious consideration, an answer can be found.

One area we must look at is vacant homes. There are varying estimates of the number of vacant homes there are in Ireland today. Surely, these houses can be brought into the housing stock again. In my home town of Dundalk there are most likely in excess of 100 homes that are lying idle and vacant. While we do not know the full facts, it is suspected the vast majority of these vacant homes are in the possession of the banks. 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 there are services in place like schools, shops and public transport.

Why are the banks holding on to these properties? This merits further discussion to get to the bottom of this issue.

In my constituency offices, one of the big issues that is constantly raised is that of young couples not being able to get a mortgage. 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 a mortgage, on which 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 they can afford the rent, surely they can afford lower mortgage repayments. I have in the past called on the banks to recognise, give credit for and take into account the rent a mortgage applicant pays when assessing the affordability of a mortgage.

We must also look at the proper introduction of indefinite terms for tenancies. This is commonplace in Europe and is a policy we must embrace. Why are landlords so reluctant to enter into long-term lease agreements? Some would argue it could be greed on the part of the landlords. That may well be true, but we must look at both sides. Why should a landlord not commit to, say, a 20-year tenancy agreement if any rent increases or decreases under that agreement were based on inflation? Surely this would lead to a win-win situation. The tenant would be safe in the knowledge that his or her rent would increase only in line with inflation, while the landlord would have the safety net of a long-term tenancy linked to inflation. We must look at this and see why it is not happening now.

I thank the Deputies for bringing this Bill before the House. As I said, I support any efforts to debate the rent and housing crisis, no matter what side of the House they come from. I welcome the Government's move that the rent pressure zones will be extended to the end of 2024 and that the 4% caps on these zones will be replaced by inflation-linked increases, although I do worry inflation might not be the best option, considering the way prices are increasing now. We all agree that families and children need stability. The moving from one house to another has to stop. Children are moving between houses, having friends one minute and no friends the next. It is very important that for once and for all we all work together and stop playing games. This is very serious.

We have had dozens of debates in this Chamber on rents and house prices over the past seven years yet, despite the endless Bills and all the legislation, we have seen rents continue to spiral radically. Housing affects everything. There is no doubt in my mind that the lack of Government action over the past seven years especially has pushed many families into significant poverty. This poverty is all-encompassing, affecting all elements of people's lives and radically reducing the level of opportunity they have in their lives. It also has a physical effect on people. I know this from my constituency. I have seen it over the past seven years. I have seen people move from Dublin to Ashbourne, from Ashbourne to Navan, then from Navan on to Kells, then from Kells to Virginia and from Virginia to Cavan. They are surfing a wave of affordability westward so they can still afford a roof over their heads. They still have to work in Dublin but they cannot afford to live in the same province their job is in, which is incredible. Children are being pulled out of schools each time such a move is made, which is having a big impact on their lives. The rents in my constituency are incredible. The average rent is more than €1,400 and in many areas is much higher than that. Under Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil the rents in my county have doubled in just the past seven years. That is an atrocious reflection on Government policy on rent.

The backdrop to all this is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and now the Greens have been rigging the property market in favour of institutional investment funds in part and have not provided the necessary capital for builders to be able to build. The report on the international investment funds in The Business Post was just fascinating. We had the Government tear itself apart here a couple of weeks ago. The Taoiseach, incredibly, stated that local authorities should not be on the wrong side of these deals and that no local authority should engage with long-term leases with these institutional investors. Then, after the big existential debate we had just a couple of weeks ago, we had a report in The Business Post which showed us that in fact these institutional investment funds will be exempt from the 10% stamp duty increase as long as they rent properties back to local authorities. The Government is saying one thing and doing the complete opposite at the same time. Of course, this follows the earlier discovery in May by The Business Post that the Government itself had invested €225 million in cuckoo funds that were buying up hundreds of houses in this State.

I remember the debate taking place here and Minister after Minister and Deputies feigning shock that this could happen in our country when in fact the State was investing in these funds. Then, when asked why the State was doing so, the Government said it could not make a decision in the direction of the investment of funds. Damn right it can. It can invest money on the basis of common sense, logic and objectives on housing. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael admit these investment funds are on a gravy train but at the same time they facilitate that gravy train. We know REITs, international investors and vulture funds have been turbo-boosted by Government preferential tax deals. IRES REIT, Ireland's largest private residential landlord, owns 3,700 residential properties in Dublin and Cork and its portfolio is estimated at €1.38 billion as of 2020. This is a 47% increase on the figure for the previous year. IRES REIT has seen a 22% increase in its rental yields as of 2019. Since that time its portfolio has increased in size and its rental income has grown. You can go down through the investment funds. I do not have time to do so now, unfortunately.

We in Aontú have in the past three weeks introduced a Bill to the Dáil that would delete the tax advantages that have been given to REITs in this country on residential properties. It would level the playing field. Remember, these international investment companies have endless access to cash. They have cheap cash, probably at 0% interest rates, and they have the special tax deals with the Government. The citizens, the families who are competing for homes with these investment funds, do not have any of that. They are being stuffed by the Government that claims to represent them. I welcome this Bill and I urge the Government to support the Aontú Bill as well.

This is a very short Bill which seeks to prohibit any rent increases for all existing and new tenancies for three years. I will cut to the chase. In my constituency of Cork South-West we need more investment in social housing. We need to sort out our planning laws, which are completely outdated at best. It is time for rank-and-file change in the planning system. It is full of negativity and Government policies steering the planners to negative results on so many planning permission applications from our young people. I have constituents who have expertise on many fronts that are being worked on in other European countries to solve the European housing crisis as we speak. Last Sunday evening I visited one such constituent in west Cork who showed me how shipping container living is possible for our young people to get them off to a start without having to rent or to go on any social housing list. This is happening in other European countries, but the planners in Ireland look negatively upon this container living. That has put an end to another great idea to help solve our housing crisis.

It is most frustrating then for me and the public to hear the Tánaiste say he will build 40,000 houses a year if in government in the future when we know he is leading the public, as we would say in west Cork, down the garden path. This morning I also heard the Minister of State's party leader, Deputy Eamon Ryan, stating he wants more people living in our smaller towns and villages, living, as he called it, over the shop, something I called for during the talks on Government formation in 2016 and in 2020 as a perfect chance to turn our smaller towns and villages into vibrant towns and villages. In spite of all this talk, however, including from the Minister, nothing is happening - absolutely nothing. It is lovely to talk. One Minister is trying to con the people, telling them he will build 40,000 houses. Another one is dreaming about all the derelict houses and over-the-shop housing being sorted in rural Ireland. It sounds beautiful but we need action on the ground and we have not got it.

We need to get down to brass tacks. If young people have solutions like shipping containers and log cabin living in and around the homes of their parents, we need to force a mindset change with the planning authorities and, if built in an unobtrusive way, make these projects allowable immediately. I have no doubt that if the Government does so, it will help wipe maybe half the people seeking social housing from the housing list.

It will give these young people a chance to build a bit of capital either to buy their own home or get a mortgage.

My clinics every Friday and Saturday are inundated with people seeking houses from Innishannon all the way out to Goleen. It is a massive area where people are pleading with me to get houses. They are broken-hearted, inside my office, crying their hearts out, asking why they cannot get a home. Some dread the thought of being homeless. It is an awful fright for people. There are solutions and, if the Government is willing to work with local politicians or someone locally with expertise, who might have come from abroad or worked abroad all his or her life, then that is what it needs to do.

We have heard people ask how to get rent to decrease and meet demand. How do you meet demand? The Minister of State's own party leader spoke about meeting demand. Deputy Michael Collins spoke of how Deputy Varadkar wants to build 40,000 houses a year. There is a lack of materials now, and it is a worldwide problem, but he will still build 40,000 houses a year. I think it may be out of Lego he will build those houses. The Government looks like a comedy show, the way it comes out with these facts and figures, which only the Government itself seems to believe.

Deputy Eamon Ryan talks about developing the houses in the towns, villages and cities so that everyone can live over the shop. I have said from the start, however, that the Government has failed to invest in infrastructure. If I want to build over the shop in Oola, Askeaton, Dromcollogher or any similar town or village in County Limerick, I cannot do that because raw sewage is going into rivers because the existing system does not have the capacity. The Government says is it will upgrade the existing system but it will not allow extra capacity. From one side of its mouth the Government says "let's do this" and is on RTÉ saying it will build the houses and everyone in Ireland will be sorted, but here is a reality check: it cannot do it because the capacity is not there. The water supply is not there, nor is the sewerage capacity. If the basics are not there, you cannot do what the Government wants to do. It got caught with its pants down recently when a vulture fund came in and bought up all the houses, and local authorities in Dublin and throughout the country could not compete with it. The Government does not have a clue about reality. It is a reality check it wants and I hope it gets it at the next election because it will deserve everything coming to it.

I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this very important Bill. Any discussion that can be had in this Dáil to try to help the situation and highlight the need to build more houses is welcome. It is a supply and demand issue at the end of the day. There is one thing we must be very careful about. I have heard people this evening, well-intentioned people, as good as ridiculing those involved in the private supply of housing and making out that they are wrong and somehow doing something out of the way. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are providing accommodation, something I have been doing since a young age. Some of the people involved in this pay tax at over 50%. That is fine, well and good, but it is not good for these people when they hear people maligning them as though they are doing something out of the way.

It would be ideal if the State could deal with the local authority housing lists and if it could build enough houses to cater for the list. I deal with people looking for housing every day of the week at my clinics and on the phone. I am trying to get the local authority to have social housing in as many ways as possible, be it for our young, middle-aged or older people. For instance, the county I represent has a crisis in one-bedroom accommodation. There are people who might qualify for accommodation of only one or two bedrooms. I asked the Taoiseach and was grateful for a reply that if our local authority could come up with housing solutions to cater for that need, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage would look favourably at supporting it. I welcome that; that is what we want.

In this very sound Bill, Sinn Féin wants to encourage our local authorities to provide as much housing as possible. Not to criticise this Government, as it goes back to every government going back as long as I can remember and before that, but they were not able to do that. There is a need for the private market. If you attack and undermine the private market too much, and I have seen this, those involved will sell what were houses rented to people as homes, so those houses are gone off the market and there is less availability of housing which further increases the cost of rent. I know that in no way does Sinn Féin want to do that, but we must be careful we are not the cause of something like that inadvertently.

I have seen the Residential Tenancies Board analysis that some renters in the Dublin area have experienced rent increases of between 20% and 30% over the past four years despite the introduction of the rent pressure zone legislation, which was good legislation. That can mean some renters are paying between €4,000 and €6,000 more a year than they were in 2016. That is wrong and unsustainable. People cannot afford that. At the same time we must be balanced in our approach to this. We all want to have a solution. We want rents to be affordable but we do not want to be the cause of knocking housing opportunities that are there now out of the market and compounding the problem.

I want to see more local authority housing being built in County Kerry. I know young families who desperately want to get the security of their own home at an affordable rate, but unfortunately the practice when I was young where a local authority bought a piece of land, built a scheme of houses and let the young people into it and built single rural cottages is all gone. It is very seldom you would see our local authority building a scheme of new houses in a greenfield site and letting young and middle-aged couples move into them. We have to see more of that.

There is no doubt the rental sector in this country is facing a crisis. I strongly support the long overdue ban on rent increases. However, let us be clear: this crisis has not happened overnight. Under successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments, rents have soared exponentially over recent decades and there is no sign of it stopping anytime soon. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael’s failed housing policies have done nothing but dehumanise this issue, treating houses as an investment and as a way of making money rather than as actual homes for actual people.

There needs to be a serious shift in how this Government looks at housing. My office in Donegal is inundated with calls from constituents throughout the county in desperate search of affordable rent. They are part of generation rent who do not have the option to buy their own home and, as a result, have been forced into the rental sector. Similar to the rest of the country, rent in Donegal has skyrocketed, rising by over one third in just under seven years. In 2013, the average rent in the county was €432 per month. This has risen to €662. This might seem low in comparison with the extortionate rates here in Dublin but it is a significant hike, and the lack of available rentals and job opportunities in the county contribute to it. It is completely unacceptable and unsustainable to force people into the rental sector and then expect them to pay extremely high and continually rising rents. These people are being left with no options or opportunities, which is, sadly, reflected in the high level of hidden homelessness and the high level of emigration in the county and the country.

Furthermore, many Donegal families already facing the devastating mica crisis are now also be forced to face the rental crisis on top of that, as they have to rent a home while their own home is being done up. As if they did not have enough to deal with already, families affected by mica have had no choice but to leave their deteriorating houses to rent alternative accommodation until the issue is resolved.

Due to the Government's seeming reluctance to address this issue, it appears they will be forced to do so for a long time to come. These families have not been compensated for the rent they are forced to pay. How can we expect them to pay a mortgage on their crumbling house on top of the rent in the middle of a rental crisis?

The lack of action and urgency on this issue proves that, unfortunately, Donegal really is the forgotten county, and the Government has not bothered to take any steps to disprove this fact. These families have been failed time and again by the Government and they have been forced to endure hardship after hardship and crisis after crisis. It is only right that we recognise this and do all in our power to help to support them. It is time for the Government to stop creating problems for these people and to start finding solutions. I look forward to the Minister's proposals, conveniently on 31 July, as we go into the silly season of August and September. I hope the proposals will reflect that and will come forward on 31 July so that people will get some respite.

Covid-19 has only intensified the rent crisis and exposed the existing problems and inequalities in the private rental sector. The already problematic private rental sector, combined with Covid, has created a very worrying situation in Donegal and throughout the country. As Dr. Michael Byrne of UCD outlined, 44% of households working in the sectors of the economy most impacted by Covid were private tenants and almost a quarter of households in the private rental sector are at risk of poverty. Struggling families have had to face cuts to their income due to the pandemic as well as insecurity in their employment. Due to Covid-19, they have had to seek rental assistance to meet the already extortionate levels of rent even before having to consider whether the rent might increase. The very least we can do is assure them of some sort of stability in these extremely uncertain and unstable times.

Over the years, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have created a situation where it is not possible for people to own their own home, but yet they continue to make it almost impossible for them to rent. It is very unfair to force a generation into renting. If the Government is going to force people into this situation then rent should be regulated. At the very least, bans must be put in place so that already high rents cannot increase any further. We must stop viewing renters as a commodity and see them for who they are: real people and real families, people whom each of us is elected to represent. It is about time the Government started to do that.

As my colleague, Deputy Pringle, has said, the housing crisis has not come about by accident. It is in fact a result of deliberate policy decisions by successive governments dominated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael and the interests of landlords, property speculators, developers and the private for-profit banks. The housing crisis is not a failure of policy from the point of view of these people. The aim of creating a landlord class and driving people into the private rental sector has been a success. Since the year 2000 there has been a 21% increase in the sector. One in five now rents in the private rental sector. The policy of enticing vulture funds and cuckoo funds into the sector with tax breaks and access to NAMA properties has also been a success for these people and institutions. In 2010, investors bought 10% of property; now it is 25%. High rents are a necessary factor in this policy, hence the reluctance to take effective action to curb spiralling rents. The 4% cap in rent pressure zones, RPZs, was a mechanism which allowed landlords to increase rents yearly. It did not apply outside the zones and it did not apply to new properties coming onto the market. The proposed policy of linking rent increases to the rate of inflation is welcome, as it is the norm in Europe. It is a step forward, but it is like all measures proposed so far by the Government – too little, too late. Again, it will not apply to new rental properties.

Inflation is likely to rise as the economy comes out of lockdown and we could easily see inflation of more than 2% next year. The situation is an emergency and it needs an emergency response. Rent should be frozen for a three-year period, as proposed in the Bill, to give renters a break. A rent freeze is necessary and welcome, but it is not a solution to the general crisis. I accept it is not suggested that the proposal in the Bill is the solution, but it is part of solving the crisis. For a start, there must be recognition that a reliance on the private rental sector has been good for the vested interests involved. However, it has been an unmitigated disaster for people seeking to put a roof over their heads and seeking a place to call home.

The State has the resources to transform the situation. Let us take NAMA for example. NAMA is completely State-owned. It has paid off its debts. It owns 747 acres of land. It has 30,000 units under development or in the planning process. NAMA should be used by the State as a key element in a national strategy to provide affordable homes to rent or buy. NAMA is currently selling 54 apartments in Finglas in Dublin as a block and, most likely, they will be bought by a fund and rented out at the highest rent possible. These apartments should be sold to an approved housing body or a local authority to be used as cost rental housing or public housing. A national strategy by the State to build affordable houses by using the existing public lands held by NAMA and the local authorities to build at least 20,000 units a year for the next five years would have a significant effect on reducing rents and house prices generally.

The problems in the private rental sector do not just relate to unaffordable rents. A recent study by UCD and Maynooth University shows that 80% of renters do not feel secure in their tenancies. The ban on evictions made no real difference in reducing their sense of insecurity. They did not trust the landlords to comply. One in four felt that where they lived was not a home and one in five said they had a bad relationship with their landlord. We need legislative change urgently to give long-term security of tenure. In particular, we must remove the right of a landlord to evict tenants through the sale of the property. We need an effective vacant property tax to bring vacant and derelict properties back into use. We also need an increase in the vacant site tax to penalise land hoarding. These issues are not addressed in the Bill, but a rent freeze must be an essential part of a new radical strategy to solve this crisis. I commend Deputy Ó Broin on introducing the Bill to the Dáil.

I thank all Deputies for their contributions. I am grateful for the opportunity to close the debate for the Government on Sinn Féin's Ban on Rent Increases Bill 2021. I have listened intently to the contributions of Deputies since my arrival in the Chamber.

As the Minister outlined, the Government is submitting a timed amendment to this Bill and we will consider it again on Second Stage in 12 months' time when the impact of the new RPZ rent increase restriction provided in the Government's Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021, which passed unanimously last night in Seanad Éireann, will have been felt on the ground. The Government expects that the switch from a straight 4% per annum rent increase restriction in RPZs to the new restriction where any rent increase cannot exceed general inflation will be impactful on the ground.

The Government is keenly aware of the challenges tenants face. We know rents are unaffordable for many people and that rent increases can exacerbate financial difficulty. We are aware that many people would prefer to own and not to rent their home. We are also aware that people want a secure home. In addition, we know we need a residential rental sector with an adequate supply to ensure rents are affordable.

The Government has implemented and will continue to implement measures to promote equity, fairness and security of tenure in the private rental sector. With the support of Government colleagues and acting on the evidence produced through research by the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, the Minister introduced significant tenancy protections in the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020, the RTVA, with effect from 1 August 2020. The Act introduced permanent and temporary protections for those tenants facing rent arrears and, as result, are at risk of losing their tenancy. While those temporary protections have been subsumed under the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies Act 2020, the PDRTA, permanent protections under the RTVA still apply, requiring landlords to serve both the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and the tenant with a 28-day warning notice, increased from 14 days, seeking payment of rent arrears and any related notice of termination.

Upon receipt of the warning notice, the RTB acknowledges receipt to the landlord and the tenant, provides information to the tenant to enable him or her to get advice from the Money & Budgeting Advice Service, MABS, and offers assistance to the tenant in obtaining this advice.

Any notice of termination grounded on rent arrears will be invalid if the rent arrears warning notice or the related notice of termination itself had not been served on both the RTB and the tenant. The aim is to ensure that early action is taken to address rent arrears to the benefit of both the tenant and the landlord.

The tailored approach in the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act protects tenants from imminent tenancy termination caused by Covid-19-related rent arrears. The Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act introduced similar temporary residential tenancy protections to those under the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act to cover the period from 11 January to 12 July 2021, while recognising the constitutionally protected property rights of landlords. The most vulnerable tenants in rent arrears due to Covid-19 and at risk of losing their tenancy can gain enhanced tenancy protections under the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act if they follow the procedures under that Act and make the necessary declaration. The Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act temporarily protects tenants from any rent increases and any termination notice on grounds of rent arrears.

In addition to making the necessary written declaration to the RTB and his or her landlord under the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act, a tenant is required to immediately request the RTB to assist him or her to obtain advice from the MABS and serve a written notice on his or her landlord requesting a consultation to make an arrangement for the payment of the rent. The aim is to set tenants and landlords on the right track to resolving any rent issues arising. The Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act protections against rent increases are available to the most vulnerable tenants and, under the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021, these protections will continue to be available until 12 January 2022.

In addition to significantly reducing the level of any rent increases in RPZs, as detailed by the Minister, the Bill will also restrict the level of upfront payments required of tenants to a total value that does not exceed two months rent to cover any deposit and one month rent in advance.

Any proposed measure that impacts on private property rights requires detailed consideration and scrutiny, having regard to the provisions of Article 43 of the Constitution and the associated legal complexities. During the recent drafting of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020, the Residential Tenancies Act 2020, the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020, the Residential Tenancies Act 2021 and the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021, the Office of the Attorney General has advised on the complex legal issues arising with any limitation of property rights under the Constitution. The need for careful targeting of enhanced legal protections to those most vulnerable tenants for a limited timeframe and for the balancing of the legal rights of both tenants and landlords informed the drafting of these Acts.

Deputy Ó Broin’s Bill does not show any evidence of appropriate policy balancing within the proposal. I am confident that the restrictions provided for in the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021 constitute the correct and balanced policy response and we need to give it time to bed in to the sector in order to have any effect on rents.

I wish to emphasise that the programme for Government recognises the important role that the private rented sector plays in housing many people and will continue to do so into the future. The Government will address challenges in this sector, including standards, security and affordability for renters. The measures under the Residential Tenancies (No. 2) Bill 2021, passed by Seanad Éireann last night, provide a timely, effective and proportionate response to help the most vulnerable tenants impacted by Covid-19 and to help all tenants in rent pressure zones by requiring that any rent increase does not exceed general inflation. The Bill helps all tenants outside RPZs by maintaining the frequency of rent reviews to no more than every second year. Landlords will also benefit from the rent certainty provided for under the Bill into the medium term.

The Bill provides for the enhanced tenancy protections under the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act to continue until 12 January 2022. As a result, rather than the usual 28 days notice that applies for a termination of notice grounded on rent arrears, a 90-day notice period applies. The earliest termination date allowed for those most vulnerable tenants will be 13 January 2022. Rent increases are also prohibited for relevant tenancies until 13 January 2022, with no backdating allowed.

My Department will work hard with the RTB to continue its change management programme to strengthen its functions and its assistance to tenants and landlords. The RTB has been highly responsive, particularly in the fast moving context of Covid-19, to the needs of tenants and Government in continually providing up-to-date assistance. I wish to record the Government’s sincere gratitude for its continuing efforts in this regard and for the help of MABS, Threshold and all NGOs, approved housing bodies and local authorities that help in addressing the evolving housing crisis. The Government is committed to supporting an adequate supply of residential rental accommodation by ensuring equity and fairness for landlords and tenants alike. Improving the standards, security and affordability for renters is a priority for me, the Minister and the Government. We are making significant changes in recognition of the fact that tenants continue to face persistent pressures in the rental and housing markets. Our approach to change must continue to be carefully balanced.

I call Deputy Guirke, who is sharing time with Deputies Mythen and Ó Broin.

I commend my Sinn Féin colleague and our spokesperson on housing, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, on bringing this Bill to the House. The Ban on Rent Increases Bill 2021 will give families and workers living in uncertain times a little comfort as they plan their finances without the fear of rent increasing. There is huge concern and a growing call for a ban on rent increases in my constituency of Meath West because rents have gone out of control in the past ten years. To rent a house in County Meath in 2011, a family would have paid €672 per month. Now, in 2021, under the watchful eyes of Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, that same house costs almost €1,300. That is nearly double the amount paid ten years ago and it hits the most vulnerable in society, as families count their last few shillings to pay their rent and utility bills and try to put food on the table. Our offices are inundated by people who are not able to pay these extortionate rents. To rent a home in Westmeath in 2011 would have cost €525 per month. Ten years later, it is now an average of €850 per month. We can see the rents in every county rising at an extremely worrying pace. In County Meath, rents increased by 6% in the last quarter of 2020.

Who is to blame for the current rental market? In 2016, our housing spokesperson introduced the Rent Certainty Bill, which would have stopped the enormous jump in rents over the last five years. Who blocked it only Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, by voting it down five times. Why would the Government parties have done this? They did it to protect the vulture funds, the cuckoo funds and the big landlords. People who are renting live with the fear of eviction every day because some landlords continue to raise their rents, which leads to families becoming homeless. Previous Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led Governments have failed to deliver on affordable housing. They have failed the people of Ireland and, during the last election, the voters made it clear they wanted a change in direction. The two parties teamed up, however, to make sure that did not happen. In 12 months time, when they look at this Bill again, there will be a lot more people homeless or in emergency accommodation.

I commend once again my colleague, an Teachta Eoin Ó Broin, on bringing forward this Bill. Should this Bill be passed, it will ban rent increases for all existing renters and new renters for up to three years, with a rent review to be considered by the Minister on an annual basis. This concept is not new and has operated in many countries around the world.

The cost of renting has spiralled in every county, with average rent now standing at €1,256. My county of Wexford, according to daft.ie, has seen a year-on-year increase of 8.9%. Young working people and college students are financially strapped by the huge cost of renting and the ever-increasing house prices. Have we learned nothing from the bubble markets and the so-called Celtic Tiger era? Young working people today are as ambitious as any generation before them. They want to be able to settle down in their own home and they want to rent at reasonable prices. However, this is not the case. Homes have become the new cash cow, the new trading commodity, no different than shares or a gold, and, I daresay, encouraged and protected by the laws passed in favour of big developers and big landlords by successive Governments. Landlords know they have a product that gives them market power and they exploit that market power by pricing above the marginal costs.

This legislation is one of the components needed to protect renters, who are mostly young and starting off their own independent lives. We all have a responsibility not to default on the upcoming generation. The history of our country with landlordism was not good.

This is not a battleground that we want to relive. It is important that we recognise the difficulties and consequences that high rents have for our young citizens and the consequences for society as a whole. The Bill, which bans increases for three years, is a moderate ask and will help in some ways to create a temporary breathing space for families and individual citizens who are being exploited to the last cent. I hope that all Deputies will see fit to support this Bill but I see that the Government has done its usual delaying tactics and added another year. Perhaps the Minister and Government should adopt Johnny Logan's song, "What's Another Year?", as their theme song for 2021.

I thank all the Deputies who spoke in support of the Bill. It is five years since I introduced a Bill to constrain rents in the private rental sector in this House. At that time, the Minister of State's party supported the Bill to link rents to inflation. All of the arguments that I have heard tonight are Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael arguments, even when they are made by Green Party Deputies, and they are the same arguments that were used five years ago not to take the kind of action that I proposed then. Since Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael refused to listen to the Opposition not just five years ago but on the other four occasions when rent certainty was voted down, renters are in a much worse position today than they were then. What I am hearing tonight is, just as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael refused to listen to the Opposition then, to the great detriment of renters, that history is now repeating itself.

The one argument that nobody on the Government side has explained is why they think that any rent increase is acceptable over the next period. Linking rents to inflation is better than 4% if inflation stays below 4% but inflation is currently running at 1.9% and rising. What happens if it rises to 3% or 4%? Are we really saying that renters paying an average rent of €1,750 in Dublin or €1,350 outside Dublin can bear any level of rent increase? Are we seriously saying that new entrants to the Dublin market, who are paying between €2,000 and €3,000 a month, can bear any level of rent increase in the current year? The answer to that question is a categorical "No", which is why the correct policy at this point in time is an emergency three-year ban on rent increases in the private rental sector.

The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, said that a ban will not increase supply. He is right but nobody on this side of the Chamber claimed that it would. It is simply to stop rents from rising any further. What would increase supply would be if Government invested hundreds of millions of euro in thousands of affordable cost rental accommodation units annually, which every agency advising Government has recommended for years. We have not seen that to date. I await the Minister's housing plan and budget 2022 with great interest but on the basis of the record of both this Government in its first year and its predecessor, that level of investment and the volumes of supply of cost rental accommodation that we want to see are unlikely to be forthcoming.

The Minister also said that we have to be mindful of the impact on landlords. This is one of the arguments that I just do not understand. What this Bill proposes is incredibly modest. It states that landlords can continue to charge the rents that are currently locked into our market. It is significantly above the peak of the Celtic tiger. Any new investment into the market is at an exceptionally high level of return, so I do not see how a three-year temporary ban would have any negative impact on levels of investment. The Minister is right that, for three years, I have urged both the last Government and this Government to undertake an urgent review of the chronic loss of accidental and semi-professional landlord properties from the market. Neither Government was willing to do that. We have a problem but insisting that renters have to pay increasingly extortionate levels of rents is not the solution. The Government should do what I have advised it to do for three years and ask the Residential Tenancies Board and the ESRI to conduct a study of why those landlords are leaving and what can be done to slow down that disorderly exit. The idea that the solution lies in the pockets of renters is not acceptable.

The argument about protecting property rights is absolutely bogus. If we can stop rent increases for two years, as was done in 2014 and 2015 and during the pandemic, we can absolutely stop rent increases now. There is significant legal opinion in the public domain to give effect to that.

I will make the arguments that I made at the start again. We have to ban rent increases for three years. Renters simply cannot take any more. We also have to reduce rents and the quickest and legally simplest way to do that is a refundable tax credit to put a month's rent back in every renter's pocket for that emergency period of three years. We need hundreds of million of euro of Exchequer expenditure, from Government borrowing, to be invested in the delivery of at least 4,000 affordable cost rental units every year until we have built that stock. We also need to see action on standards and NCT-style certification for minimum standards should be introduced as a matter of urgency. We also need tenancies of indefinite duration. I know the Government has said it will do it but I understand that what it will introduce does not include tenancies of indefinite duration. We will judge that when it comes.

The bottom line is that once again, Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and, regrettably, the Green Party, are walking away from renters. They are siding with the institutional interests of the private rental market. The people who will suffer will be the hard-pressed renters. It is a shame that anybody thinks that the Government's deferral of the reading of Second Stage for 12 months is anything other than a cynical ploy to avoid the blushes of having to vote against such an urgent and eminently sensible measure. On that basis, I commend the Bill to the House.

Amendment put.

In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Wednesday, 7 July 2021.