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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 15 Feb 2022

Vol. 1018 No. 1

Tackling the cost of living - Institutional Investors in the Residential Property Market: Motion [Private Members]

I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

— the housing crisis continues to worsen for renters and first-time buyers;

— residential property prices have increased on average by 14 per cent in the last year according to the most recently published Residential Property Price Index by the Central Statistics Office; and

— average rents nationally now stand at €1,524 per month, an average of 10.3 per cent higher than the same period in the year previous, with the average rent in Dublin now standing at €2,056, a rise of 8.9 per cent;

further notes that:

— the expanding involvement of institutional investors, which include Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) introduced by the Fine Gael-led Government in the Finance Act 2013, and Irish Real Estate Funds (IREFs) is having a detrimental effect on the Irish residential property market and the private rental sector;

— the tax advantages and exemptions gifted by the Government lock struggling home buyers and renters out of affordable accommodation from the new supply coming on the market and are a factor in the massive increase in rents being charged;

— REITs and IREFs pay no corporation tax on income from their property rental businesses nor capital gains tax accruing on the disposal of assets of their property rental businesses;

— institutional investors have developed monopolistic and oligopolistic pricing power in local areas throughout the State;

— this is distorting rental and property markets to the detriment of workers, families and struggling home buyers, and is pricing middle and low-income earners out of purchasing or renting from the private market;

— a recently published research report by BNP Paribas Real Estate states that 4,900 private rental sector properties were bulk purchased by investment funds in 2021 at 32 per cent above average asking prices; and

— investment by these institutional investors in the residential property market reached €2.27 billion in 2021, and is expected to grow in this and subsequent years without immediate policy intervention; and

calls on the Government to:

— introduce legislation to end the tax advantages and exemptions granted by the Government to institutional investors, including REITs and IREFs, in the residential property market;

— introduce legislation to impose a stamp duty surcharge on the purchase of residential property by institutional investors, including REITs and IREFs;

— amend the Planning and Development Act 2000, to empower planning authorities to determine that the tenure mix of all new residential developments is based on local tenure need as determined by the Housing Need and Demand Assessment;

— repeal the "Build to Rent and Shared Accommodation Sectors" section of the "Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments – Guidelines for Planning Authorities" (2018); and

— provide additional capital funding to local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies to forward purchase such developments for the provision of social, affordable rental and affordable purchase homes, given some developments require forward purchase agreements to ensure their viability and delivery.

Workers and families are in the grip of a cost of living crisis. Low- and middle-income households needed actions that met the scale of those challenges. A Government that understood the challenge they face would respond to support them. However, we know this Government does not get it and has failed to meet that challenge. The package announced last week will see Ministers receiving the same financial support to light and heat their homes as workers on the minimum wage. That is crazy. This Government will spend more than €12 million on electricity credits to more than 62,000 holiday homes throughout the State while low- and middle-income households face price spikes in the cost of gas, electricity and home heating oil. This is a Government that is out of touch, out of ideas and out of time. A Sinn Féin Government would have provided targeted support to low- and middle-income households at speed and at scale. This Government has failed to respond to the challenge.

The failure is no more evident than in the area of housing. This Dáil and this Government should be constantly reminded that the housing and rental crisis did not fall from the sky. It did not happen by accident; it happened a direct consequence of the policies and decisions made by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael elected representatives. Ministers, some of whom have been at the Cabinet table for more than a decade, often comment on the housing crisis as if they were some type of spectator but they are key players in the housing crisis, and you cannot spin reality. In the 12 months to November, house prices rose by 14%. We are close to reaching what I believe is and has been the objective of this Government for the past decade, that is, to push house prices back up to Celtic tiger peaks. It is to pump up the housing market, to maximise its proceeds for shareholders, developers and institutional investors. The problem the Government faces is that policy has now damaged the quality of life and life prospects of renters while locking workers and families out of home ownership. The average rent across the State now stands at €1,500 and in Dublin at more than €2,000. That is the legacy of this Government and the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. It is renters struggling in this city and right across this State. Saving for a deposit while paying extortionate rent is impossible while house prices seem so far beyond the reach of many. The October budget, like the measures announced last week, ignored and forgot the struggles of renters. We in Sinn Féin have called for rents to be reduced and then frozen. A Sinn Féin Government would introduce a refundable tax credit for renters to put one month's rent back into their pockets. A Sinn Féin Government would ban rent increases because rent increases because renters cannot afford another rent increase.

While the Government continues to ignore the struggle of renters and homebuyers, it rolls out the red carpet to institutional investors like vulture funds and cuckoo funds. It provides them with tax advantages that allow and encourage them to price homebuyers out of the market and push up rents.

They pay no corporation tax on their rental profits and no capital gains tax when they sell the property. They are the winners of Government policy, while renters and home buyers are certainly the losers.

In 2019, real estate funds enjoyed an operating profit of €1.2 billion and they did not pay a cent in corporation tax on those profits. I have not made a mistake; real estate funds in 2019 enjoyed an operating profit of €1.2 billion and they did not pay a cent of corporation tax on those profits. In the first half of last year, IRES REIT, which owns more than 3,800 properties throughout the State, made profits of €27 million. It did not pay a red cent in corporation tax on any of those profits, which were made on the back of renters paying sky-high rents.

Sinn Féin has warned this Government and this Minister for years that the sweetheart tax deals he granted these funds would undermine the efforts and interests of renters and buyers. That has come to pass. Now is the time for change. It is long overdue. This motion calls on the Government, once again, to end the tax advantage it deliberately gifted to investment funds in the housing market and instead fund and empower local authorities and homebuyers to purchase homes that can be bought or rented at affordable prices. That is what a Sinn Féin government would do and, even at this late stage, that is what Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael should do. They should roll up the red carpet and stop allowing these funds to pay no tax.

Institutional investors are distorting our housing market. This is not some accident or force of nature; it is the policy of the Government. For many years, a global wall of cheap money has been seeking out the highest yields in real estate investment. In recent years, Government policy has thrown fuel on the housing fire, with all the obvious consequences.

My colleague, Deputy Doherty, has talked about how there is no tax on the rent roll for these funds and no tax on capital gains. In fact, in many cases, they can write off their dividend withholding tax against other costs. At the same time, we have inferior design standards for apartments. Why renters should have a lesser standard than buyers is beyond me. We are also seeing increasingly poor decisions by developers and the board being challenged in the courts incurring further delays. The consequence is that house prices and rents rise, buyers are locked out of the market and the housing crisis goes on and on.

The measures the Government took last year simply make no difference. The idea that an 8% increase in stamp duty would make it more difficult for funds to buy houses and duplexes ignores what is happening with rents. We remind the Minister time and again that apartments are also homes. We need to price these high yield short-term investors out of the market and replace them with public investment, and good quality private sector investment, to deliver genuinely affordable homes for working people. The Minister will wrongly say that Sinn Féin is against private sector investment in the market; that is not the case. We are against the bad investments that push up house prices, lock families out of home ownership and make the delivery of social and affordable homes ever more difficult.

The motion before us presents very clear policy alternatives. Ultimately, it is time to make a choice. Is the Government on the side of small numbers of poorly regulated institutional investors that make maximum profits, or is it on the side of the delivery of genuinely affordable homes for working people to rent or buy at prices they can afford? That is the difference between our party and that of the Minister. That is why we propose this motion and he will oppose it.

This time last month The Connacht Tribune carried a story that reported that a vulture fund - not just any vulture fund but the country's largest - was circling above my home county of Galway. The article stated that IRES REIT was "planning to roll out its highly profitable ‘buy-to-let’ model – a move that will drive up rents and house prices". This news was not welcomed by anyone who came into my clinic. These are people who are struggling to pay rent and just last week saw that rents have increased yet again, by 19% in County Galway and 8.8% in Galway city. People fear bills coming through the door. These are people who were served notices to quit by landlords and fear where they will go next. The build-to-rent model of these investment funds just drives up rents and prices. They are there to serve only the wealthiest in society.

We often hear from the Government that it is all about supply. As long as we are increasing the supply of homes, by whatever means, we can bring down rents. We know, however, and we have seen that funds are more than happy to let their properties sit idle, if they cannot get someone to pay that rent. They do not want to allow a situation where rents are falling, which will mean a falling yield on their asset. They are happy to maintain a situation of high rents. A few months ago, right outside where I live in my estate in Mervue, Galway, one of these build-to-rents was given planning permission for apartments to be constructed just outside Mervue. The people of Mervue were not happy to see that because, once again, they know and will see that their children and grandchildren will not benefit from this. They will not be able to pay those rents. It will just push them further away from home ownership and from even being able to rent.

The reality is the Government's housing policy is destroying generations of young people and older people. When I hear Ministers telling us that the Government's housing policy is working, I do not disagree with them. For me, the operational question is who exactly is it working for? Who is it benefiting? The answer is the investment funds and the large private developers serving them because our rental crisis, and that of the people of Galway, means record profits for them.

Nothing the Government has done has had any impact whatsoever on rising rents. These are not unique to our larger cities and towns. In my constituency, rents are up in County Roscommon by more than 22% in the past year. On average, renters are now paying €912 and rising every single month. At the same time, every other outgoing in that house has also increased. In County Galway, there has been a 19% increase in rents. They have now surpassed €1,100 with renters paying €1,138 a month and rising. The consistent Government response to this is supply, but renters cannot wait for that, especially when supply is there but an investment fund comes in, takes it up and that supply is gone.

Young people of my generation cannot save a deposit to own their own home. They are now leaving, as they have done previously, because they cannot afford to live in Ireland. That is a reality. They are in a position now where they do not want to work just to live, pay their rent and pay their bills; they want a life. These are young people who are coming out of college and starting work and we are driving them out of this State, as we have done previously. It is not working. It is a sad indictment, in 2022, that so many people cannot afford to live in this State. They have good jobs and are well educated but they cannot get by. That does not make any sense. What the Government has done to date in respect of rents has had no impact whatsoever. We have to support renters to allow them to work and live here, rather than to leave, as many of my generation have already and, unfortunately, continue to.

There is a cost-of-living crisis and it is hammering low- to middle-income workers. We keep saying it, but the Minister just cannot hear it, or he hears it and does not get it, or he does get it but is not interested in doing anything about it. The Minister needs to listen and to engage with the Opposition when we put forward solutions.

In my constituency of Dublin Fingal, workers are paying more than €2,000 a month to rent a three-bedroom property in which they are trying to bring up their families, pay the exorbitant cost of childcare and keep a car on the road because public transport is not quite what it should be in my area. All they see are prices rising all around them and a secure home getting further and further away from them. They see that is Government policy, which is working, because it appears to be policy to heap more and more pressure on the backs of ordinary workers until they simply cannot take it anymore.

I do not know what or who the Minister sees in his clinics.

In my clinics, every day of the week I meet people who are desperate for secure housing, which this Government is pushing further and further away from them. When I was young, the aspiration of owning a home was not fantastic. It was not a pipe dream. It was very achievable for people on ordinary incomes. That is not the case now. If that is not enough, this Government is ensuring that workers will continue to have to pay the high rents they are now paying, which means they cannot save for deposits and they are stuck renting. They cannot get out of the rental trap. Rents are going up week on week, year on year and it is crucifying them.

This is an ideologically driven housing policy. Not only are the institutional and investment funds being facilitated by the State, they are being subsidised by it to the tune of more than €860 million per annum. For decades now, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have undermined the local authorities and young people's ability to rent, to purchase or to build and to live locally. These institutional landlords are competing with the councils and young couples in trying to purchase homes to ensure that families live locally and can contribute locally. With the say so and support of this Government they are engaged in build-to-rent, which creates transient communities. That is not a sustainable society.

There is so much State land that can be built on, including in my area. Time and again, we have told the Government this. Such is the chaotic state of this Government's policies, in some cases, it has rezoned these lands industrial rather than allow them to be used for housing. These lands need to be built on for the benefit of young families, couples and those who want to rent at an affordable level. It is only then families will have the burden removed from their shoulders. We have to ensure that young people and young working families in Dublin city and elsewhere can afford to put a roof over their heads. That is not the case today. In Dublin 10, which is part of my constituency, there is not one property available to rent today. The situation is not much better in Dublin 12, where there are currently only 19 properties available. The institutional landlords and investment funds are buying up properties, sometimes in lots and other times here and there. I note the Minister is shaking his head. That is a fact whether or not he likes it. I can bring him to places where entire blocks of houses, former local authority, second hand, stock, has been bought up on the market by these funds, which is driving up prices. These properties are then being turned into rental properties which are being subsidised by the Government. That is the scandal and it needs to end.

The Government's failure to adequately address the housing crisis, one of its own making, has meant that unsavoury actors have entered the housing market and they act with impunity. A classic example are the aptly named "vulture funds" which swoop into our distressed housing market to buy up housing stocks and portfolios. Investment funds have the advantage of not being subject to the same constraints as the banks. They have little or no concern about the backlash or negative consequences of their actions on their company branding so they are more inclined and more likely to take drastic action to protect their investments. This can mean repossessing homes and evicting people. These companies have only one goal, that is, to be profitable. They achieve this by protecting their investments through offering those with a home loan a write down or eviction. The banks win when they sell their loan books to investment funds because their reputations are not tarnished as they are not responsible for the eviction of the homeowner. They do not like to have to offer write downs to individual mortgage holders as others on their books with distressed loans might look for a similar resolution to their repayment difficulties. The vulture fund does not have these concerns and can do either with a view to what is in the best interests of its investors.

Investment funds do enormous damage to Irish society by locking out those seeking to buy a home and forcing renters into paying unaffordable rents. The Government is happy to let this continue regardless of the social and economic cost to the country as long as it can say that housing is available. Vulture funds buying up large blocks of housing and apartments creates its own monopoly of sorts. These investment funds will be the market drivers. Through their ownership of vast numbers of apartments and houses they will have the leverage to determine market prices. House prices will be and are being driven by these tactics. They are no longer affordable by two professionals taking home incomes, which are above the national average. This is not sustainable.

We need to ensure that in new housing developments institutional investment funds are locked out from purchasing in bulk by imposing a stamp duty surcharge and ending tax exemptions granted by the Government. In the Minister's constituency, a 15-storey building close to Campbell's Bridge has been bought up by an investment fund. It would be ridiculous for the Minister to say that he is not aware of what is going on.

I move amendment No. 2:

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

"notes that:

— a substantial increase in the supply of new homes is the only route to solving Ireland's housing crisis;

— delivering the target of an average of 33,000 homes per annum will require significant private investment alongside our unprecedented levels of public investment;

— the Government has provided the largest ever housing budget in the history of the State to support commitments and actions in Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland, with more than €20 billion in funding through the Exchequer, the Land Development Agency and the Housing Finance Agency until 2026, including increasing funding to local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies to provide new build social housing across the State;

— affordability challenges in the rental sector are due, in large part, to a lack of supply in the rental market;

— institutional investors are estimated to own less than 1 per cent of the total housing stock, or 7 per cent of all tenancies, and as such are very unlikely to occupy enough share of the market to have monopolistic or oligopolistic pricing power or indeed to cause distortionary effects; and

— the forward commitment model is driving real increases in supply, with sectoral reports noting that three-quarters of bulk-purchased units in 2021 were bought under forward commitment models and may not have been developed in the absence of such arrangements;

recognises that:

— given constraints in the domestic lending environment, without non-bank investment the situation in the rental market would be considerably more challenging;

— capital is particularly required at the development stage, where an estimated €10 billion of private capital will be required annually to ensure the provision of social, affordable and private homes;

— where institutional investment brings a profit, a fair share of taxation should be paid, and steps have been taken in recent Finance Acts to address issues identified with institutional investment regimes;

— Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) companies are a common and internationally recognised form of collective investment in long-term rental assets, and the REIT regime requires annual distribution of profits for taxation at the level of the shareholder;

— the Irish Real Estate Fund regime is a set of additional measures imposed on funds investing in Irish property assets to ensure collection of tax on profits derived from Irish property; and

— the Government has also introduced both fiscal and regulatory measures to address certain activities by corporate investors that may be detrimental to the market, including through the introduction of the 10 per cent Stamp Duty rate on bulk purchasing of houses; and

acknowledges that:

— the Government's Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland strategy outlines the Government's plan to increase affordability and housing supply by targeting the delivery of, on average, 33,000 new homes per annum out to 2030;

— €4 billion was allocated towards housing in Budget 2022 and this includes €2.6 billion in capital funding, which will be used to deliver 9,200 social homes, the vast bulk of which will be new build;

— a key challenge to securing development finance is commercial viability, without which it may not be possible to attract sufficient funding;

— the Government is committed to improving supply of housing and affordability for first-time buyers and notes that the first affordable and Cost Rental homes are now beginning to come to the market, some at rates 40 per cent and 50 per cent lower than market rent;

— the Government has expanded the Part V planning requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2000, and increased the contribution required from 10 per cent to 20 per cent to include affordable and Cost Rental housing; and

— through Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland, the Government is implementing a multi-faceted approach to housing delivery that is working and will help significantly increase supply and improve affordability for families and individuals wishing to secure a home.

I will open my contribution by stating very clearly whose side I am on this evening in light of the allegations made by Sinn Féin. When I am in my constituency meeting constituents I, of course, experience first-hand the great concern they have regarding the rising cost of rent. I meet families who are worried as to whether they will ever be able to buy a home or to afford their rent in the future. These are issues and challenges that are affecting so many. I absolutely understand the affect this is having on their lives and in our society and the obligation and need on behalf of this Government to respond and to make a difference.

At the same time as I am meeting my constituents on the grave challenges they are confronting in their own lives, I see in my own constituency the huge housing project under way that is O'Devaney Gardens, which was opposed by Sinn Féin. It is currently under construction, with more homes to come on this site, providing a mix of different forms of homes in private and public ownership to meet the very needs of the people I meet in my constituency. That project that is happening.

In Dominick Street, I see the new apartments that are being built by Dublin City Council which will be available soon such that families can live in accommodation that they deserve and will be affordable to them. Elsewhere in my constituency, I note the scale of new apartments that are being built at the bottom of Carnlough Road in Cabra. These are new homes that are being built. I know that we need more homes to be built quickly but these are projects that are under way that will have families in them and thus will alleviate the grave challenges that so many are now confronting.

Beyond this tale of individual projects, the reality is that homes are being built in our country. While I know we need more homes to be built quickly, despite the impact of Covid on our country, more than 30,000 homes are being built. Over the past 12 months, more than 30,000 homes have been commenced and there are over 39,000 in the planning system. Behind every one of those figures is a house or an apartment that will become a home for a citizen, a worker or a family. This Government is determined to repeat that year on year to make a sustainable and real difference to the challenges that are behind this motion but are not served by it.

Let us look at the reality of the scale of institutional investment within our country. Currently, they account for 1% of the total housing stock and 7% of total tenancies, rising to, I accept, just under 15% within Dublin. That is the total amount of accommodation with which these funds are associated.

I referred to the delivery that is under way at the moment. Behind that is a Government commitment of €4 billion per year that this year alone will deliver well in excess of 6,000 to 7,000 new social homes for those who need them. Those homes will be available this year. The Government will also deliver the building of new homes for affordable rent and cost purchase. That is the reality of what is happening this year because the Government recognises the challenges faced by many. When Sinn Féin asks me whose side I am on, that is whose side I am on. That is why I want additional supply and more homes built in our country. The State needs to invest and has a role in supplying homes. Some €4 billion is being allocated for that this year. The Government is on the side of those who want homes they can afford to buy, rent and live in. We accept that we are doing this at a time when many are facing intense and difficult challenges but that is why we are responding with the scale of funding that is under way. It is why we have the Land Development Agency, which will play an active role. That is leading into the figures I shared with the House a moment ago. More than 20,000 homes have been built. More than 39,000 homes are at the planning permission stage. The building of more than 30,000 homes has commenced. I know many people want these homes delivered now. They want more of those homes available now at a cheaper price and a cheaper rent. In order to complete that journey and get to that point, we need homes to be built in our country year after year. That is what this Government is committed to doing.

It is not just the Government that has a role to play in this regard. According to analysis prepared by my Department, we need approximately €10 billion of private investment and private capital per year to get up to the 33,000 or 35,000 homes we need to deliver each year. That figure at the moment is approximately €6 billion per year. We have a gap at the moment of approximately €4 billion per year that needs to be filled to deliver new homes for the people I represent and who this Government is aiming to serve. That is the role that institutional investment can play in meeting that need in our country. As I said a moment ago, the scale of total accommodation they have is as I have shared with the House. At the heart of these investment funds is the role they can play for our country in allowing us to organise savings that are held elsewhere in the world to deliver more housing supply in our country. That is at the heart of what these investment funds and entities do. I heard members of Sinn Féin say again and again that investment funds play a role in buying up housing stock that is already built. I accept that when that happens, it is an issue. That is why we brought in a surcharge last year on the bulk purchase of homes. My contention to the Dáil this evening is that those funds play a critical role in providing supply of new homes, apartments and houses in our country. In their absence, supply would not be coming in. The supply would not be available in our country at the scale it is. That is the role these investors can play, accompanied by a Government that is spending €4 billion, with a capital budget that is at an all-time high, a strong and active State that is directly investing to build more homes through our local authorities. There is also a role for the private sector.

The Government is aiming to achieve new social housing this year. In 2022, we expect there will be more than 10,000 new social homes. That target exists beside the role of these funds in providing rental accommodation, in particular. In the absence of these funds operating in the way they are, it is our judgment and contention that the majority of those homes would not be built. That is the equation. More supply and more homes being built in our country will, over time, give us the best prospect we have. We will do that as quickly as we can and address the issues of affordability and the cost of rent. The State is also directly building homes through our local authorities.

The proposals that are being brought forward by Sinn Féin would lead to fewer homes being built and to higher rents and prices. That is what I believe this is a recipe for. When a Sinn Féin spokesperson and others make the point about their ambitions to deliver more social homes, the figures in that regard are stark. They claim they can build 20,000 social homes next year at a cost of €3 billion. That is a cost of €150,000 per home. Those are the maths. We know homes in our State cannot be delivered for €150,000 at the moment because of the very issues those Sinn Féin Deputies are raising about cost inflation and the pressures we and many others are facing around inflation for the materials that are needed to deliver those homes.

The case the Government and I are making is that we are playing an active role, building homes directly, creating the conditions for more private supply which, in turn, will create the environment in which we will be able to continue to make progress on the issues that renters and homeowners are raising regarding the cost of living, rent and owning a home. I am on their side, as is Deputy Durkan. Others from the Government benches who will speak on this motion are on their side. That is why we are putting forward this countermotion.

Fine Gael has been in government for ten years.

The IMF was in government for a long time.

I call Deputy Munster.

At least the Minister is going to make sure his buddies do not pay any tax.

The IMF was in government for ten years. The Deputy should not forget that.

I call Deputy Munster. The clock is running.

The policy of inviting and incentivising investment funds into the Irish housing market has been disastrous for a generation of young people in Ireland. People are in the ridiculous position of trying to compete with investment funds that can swoop in and buy up hundreds and even thousands of homes at inflated prices. This is pushing up the price of housing and contributing to the current shameful situation where for many young people, owning a home is nothing but a pipe dream. Fine Gael and the Labour Party introduced the system that brought these investment funds into the Irish market, awarding them frankly outrageous tax advantages and exemptions, including not having to pay corporation tax on income earned from rent. This has contributed to the dysfunctional, cruel housing market we have now. It has locked out people struggling to buy their own homes and is fuelling higher rents. Here we are, nearly a decade on, dealing with the repercussions of this terrible policy decision.

In 2022, working people are finding it almost impossible to house themselves in a way that is affordable and sustainable. People who are on decent pay and who in previous generations would never have struggled to buy a home are now unable to do so. We all know why people want to own their own homes so badly. The rental market is absolutely bonkers. Rents are astronomical and increasing month on month, year on year, and there is no stability or security of tenure for anybody. That is if one can find a place to rent. A recent report from daft.ie stated the number of properties for rent is the lowest since it began tracking in 2006. Rents in Louth increased by more than 8% in the past year alone. We need to make housing affordable and we need to allow our young people to live their lives without the enormous worry and stress of paying for housing hanging over them. Young people are not able to live normal lives. Living with one's parents well into one's 20s and 30s is not normal, nor is it fair. People are putting off getting married and having children. Many, of course, are leaving the country altogether, not because they are unemployed but because successive Governments have made it impossible for them to live here.

I cannot fathom how the Minister, in all good conscience, can continue with these policies, knowing the damage, stress, sheer anxiety and enormous financial pressure and burden they are putting on his own people. Most people outside this bubble are asking the same question, which is, why continue with those policies?

The Minister and I know that investment funds are currently spending billions of euro in the Irish property market. They are hoovering up properties.

We also know that workers and their families are locked out of the market and do not stand a chance when some big fund can just buy properties in bulk and offer 30% over the asking price. It is obscene that big funds pay hardly any tax and are making huge profits at the expense of Irish people. And why is this happening? It is because Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have prioritised the profits of investment funds and developers. Let the market decide; let it run amok with no controls. And who are the victims? It is young couples who come into our advice centres and young workers, nurses, gardaí, council workers, civil servants and factory workers.

The Government has made its priorities clear and they are skewed, as are all the others, towards a wealthy elite. The Government's measures and plans only ever push up the cost of homes, meaning that many workers or families will be trapped in the rental market. If this continues, homelessness will increase as more and more workers' incomes flow into rents. Rents and house prices climb and do serious harm to lone parents and others who are disproportionately represented among the homeless and hidden homeless population.

Does anyone seriously believe that the same parties that created the mess will somehow fix it with a magic wand? I do not believe that anyone trusts Fianna Fáil or Fine Gael to solve the housing problems. Every so-called plan we have seen from this and previous Governments has been just another developer's charter. Sinn Féin would end tax breaks for big investment funds and ensure that local authorities and approved housing bodies are funded to buy some of these developments before they come on to the market in order to make them available to ordinary people to rent and buy at affordable prices. The housing situation in Ireland is completely dysfunctional. Sinn Féin is committed to building social and affordable housing, implementing rent controls and putting a month's rent back in renters' pockets through a tax credit. It is time for others to be given a chance to do things differently.

The Taoiseach, who is a Cork man like myself, has repeatedly tried to play down the damage that is being done by international investment funds in this State by claiming it is only a Dublin issue. It is not only a Dublin issue. My constituents and those of the Taoiseach in Cork are having their hopes and dreams of owning their own homes dashed by these funds coming in and buying up properties. Central Statistics Office, CSO, figures released in October show that one in five homes in Cork city are being purchased by non-owner-occupiers.

Given the state of the housing market and out-of-control rents, with an average rent in Cork at present of more than €1,500 per month, ordinary families or working people do not stand a chance of ever owning their own homes while this Government is in power. The Irish Examiner reported in 2020 that in the previous five years, institutional investment funds spent more than €1 billion in Cork alone, the largest of these being the Elysian building in the centre of Cork city, which cost €90 million. To rent a three-bedroom apartment in the Elysian, a person must pay an eye-watering €3,448 per month. If a person was to stay within the recommended limit of paying 30% of his or her income towards rent, he or she would want to earn €250,000. That is the type of housing policy this Government has that has led us to this point. We talk about cuckoo funds but the only thing cuckoo here is the Government's policy; it must be in cuckoo land if it believes this will deliver more housing and cheaper rents.

I listened carefully to what the Minister had to say but the reality is that thousands of workers are trapped in private rented accommodation with spiralling rents and no hope of ever getting a mortgage or securing a permanent roof over their heads.

Figures released on daft.ie last week revealed that rents in County Laois went up by 11.3% in 12 months while in County Offaly, they went up by a whopping 14.6%. The average purchase cost of a home in 2021 was €225,000. The Government has completely abandoned renters and workers earning in the category of €18,000 to €60,000 in terms of either being able to buy a home or rent one with secure tenure tenancies. The Government's budget and recent announcement delivered no solutions to these housing problems. It has failed renters and rural dwellers.

Sinn Féin has long called for an immediate rent freeze, which we would introduce, and provide renters with a tax rebate to the value of one month. Give the renters a break. Do not give it to the institutional investors. Why not give it to our own people who are absolutely nailed to the wall every week and month trying to figure out where they will get the rent? Give them a modest tax break of one month's rent back every year. Workers and families need that break. These two measures would provide some relief but also would help renters to save for a deposit.

Government spokespersons put much faith in increasing the supply of housing. We want to increase the supply of housing. I know it needs to be increased but the facts are that increasing supply alone will not bring down rents and will not bring down the price of housing. All we have to do is look back to 2006 and 2007 when we built more than 90,000 homes per year, and what happened? Rents literally went through the roof - pardon the pun - and the same with house prices in those two years. Supply alone will not do it. It needs other measures.

Our proposal this evening also calls for an increase in stamp duty and to take away the incentives for these vulture funds to bulk buy homes that ordinary families and couples need. End their tax breaks. Workers and families in rural Ireland are also facing huge energy costs and the measures the Minister brought in last week did not address this. All they are facing is more carbon tax increases in areas where there is not public transport. The Government has really and truly done nothing to address the situation for renters and rural dwellers.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion on behalf of the Labour Party. The Minister knows that we are in the midst of a real cost-of-living crisis. The reality is that we have faced an affordability crisis in our housing and rental market for far longer.

Over the past year alone, we have seen house prices in County Louth experience double-digit growth with young couples from places like Drogheda, Dundalk, Laytown, Bettystown, east Meath and all across the constituency unable to settle down close to their families, friends and wider support networks. Like people across the country, they remain caught in a vicious cycle of not being able to find an affordable home while being caught in a dysfunctional rental system that continues to eat up their weekly wage cheque and savings.

Rents in County Louth, for example, are now well in excess of double what they were during the last recession, with average rents in the county standing at just under €1,400 per month. The situation is much more acute in the Drogheda area. Average rental prices in County Louth are now an astonishing 118.7% higher than at their lowest point during the last recession. In the last 12 months alone, rents in Louth have increased by more than 8%. This is at a time when many people have been left out of pocket from the pandemic because of the impact on their employment or business and when other costs are also rapidly rising.

Not only can our young people not afford rent; many are lucky if they can even find a place to rent. Last week in Louth, for example, there were just 54 properties available to rent and this is in a county with a population in excess of 130,000 and growing. We should spare a thought for the young retail worker, childcare worker or single mother operating within this Hunger Games-style rental market. Imagine the feeling when they click on to a room-to-rent advertisement that has more than 2,000 views or when the prospective landlord tells them that he or she had 500-plus other inquiries about a room. That is something I know everyone across this Chamber has experienced from representing their constituents day in, day out. Even if a person is lucky enough to get a viewing, he or she will often be only one of many. This desperation inevitably feeds into a diminution of standards. It pushes up prices, as many have no choice but to accept the miserable offer that is available to them. This is not some distant reality.

In this very House, political staff - people working in our national Parliament - are forced to live at home with parents, unable to find even a room to rent at an affordable price. This is apart from the skyrocketing cost of living and energy prices, which are making it nigh on impossible for many renters to get by each month. It is no exaggeration when the head of Threshold, which is on the front line of our rental crisis, says many people are cutting back on other essential expenditure such as food or heat. That is the reality of life at the moment.

I remember 2012 and 2013 very well. The economy started to move again and housing demand in cities and large towns grew, but access to finance for builders hardly existed. This is not that long ago. Access to skilled labour was very limited, with many of those skilled tradespeople having to emigrate to find work because of the economic situation in this country. Institutional investors were the only entities prepared to build to any scale at that point. However, time does not stand still and the time is long since past for stronger regulation and fair taxation of these funds. This is not 2012 or 2013. The economic and financial situation is markedly different today. Yet, from 2016 to 2020, we saw the then Government add fuel to the flames of an overheating housing and rental market by allowing institutional investors to operate with free rein and unencumbered, with no change worth talking about in terms of the tax or regulatory regime applied to these funds. Last year alone, we saw large investors pay more than €2 billion for nearly 5,000 private rented sector properties, with institutional buyers paying up to 32% more for each residence compared with the average price paid by household buyers.

I am aware of situations in my home town of Drogheda where young first-time buyers are competing with funds for fairly modest former local authority homes, for example, in which they might start a family before later, potentially, moving elsewhere. They cannot compete because funds are buying up these properties en masse even before they are publicly advertised. We know the average first-time buyer simply cannot compete with these funds but a question we do not ask ourselves often is why institutional investors are willing to pay so much above what might be the market rate. In short, it is because they believe in Ireland's property market and have the confidence that, with the odds heavily stacked in their favour, it is a safe bet. That requires some reflection. We cannot allow institutional investors to continue to rake in virtually tax-free profits off the backs of workers in the real economy.

In successive budgets, the Labour Party has called for a package of measures to rein in cuckoo funds, including an increase in the dividend withholding tax to 33% on real estate investment trusts, REITs, and Irish real estate fund, IREFs, a minimum 10% stamp duty levy on bulk sales of apartments to private investors and an increase in stamp duty on non-residential property and €1 million-plus purchases. We have repeatedly called for the scrapping of capital gains tax, CGT, relief under section 604A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997, which might once have served a purpose but is now costing the State more than €500 million in tax expenditures. This funding would not only help to stem the dominance of institutional investors but would also serve as an important source of additional capital funding to local authorities and approved housing bodies.

I turn briefly to the Labour Party amendment, which recognises the broader issue of taxation of rental income. We know the majority of landlords - more than 85% - own only one or two properties. These landlords, like institutional investors, must be, and are being, properly regulated and they also must be taxed fairly and consistently to ensure a fair playing field for all. The Labour Party believes this income, like any other source of income, should be progressively taxed. We cannot allow a situation to continue whereby the worker who pays the rent is liable for tax while the landlord who collects it has a different experience. That is the reality of the situation at present. There will be scaremongering in certain quarters that this would lead to a further exodus of landlords from the property market but there is no evidence whatsoever to back up that unsubstantiated claim. When we look at the difference between mortgage repayments and average rental costs, it is clear the majority of landlords can well afford a modest tax on their rental income. Indeed, it would be foolish of them to leave the market for tax reasons alone.

We need to see consistency. As our amendment proposes, taxes on rental incomes should not be any less than the marginal tax rate levied on income from work. That is the fairest, most consistent and most equitable thing to do. The Labour Party fully supports the principles of this motion and we call on both Opposition and Government parties to accept our amendment to ensure full and fair taxation of rental income.

I want to address a point the Minister for Finance made in his remarks. I do not think I need to explain this to him. I am sure he understands how social housing is costed in budget 2022, which he introduced in the House, in Housing for All and, in fact, in all the budgets he has introduced. I would say he knows full well that the total capital cost of each social housing unit is not provided for in the budget and that the way the Government counts social housing costs is partially through capital payments and partially through low-cost loans. Given that this is how the cost is provided for, it is a bit unfair and disingenuous to attack people on the Opposition benches for using the exact same costings he introduced in this House on several occasions. He either does not understand the costings he introduced or this is a cheap political attack. It is one or the other.

There are three factors that applied in Ireland until recently but are no longer the case. Until recently, it was cheaper to rent than pay a mortgage. That is no longer the case. Until recently, it was cheaper to buy a new-build apartment than a new-build house. That is no longer true. It is not long since Ireland had above the average rate of home ownership in the European Union. Now we are below that average. In fact, it is not terribly long since home ownership rates were at 80% in Ireland, but they have decreased steadily over the past number of years, especially since Fine Gael came to office. This is because of the policies that party is pursuing.

The growth in investment funds that has been facilitated and encouraged by the Government has gone hand in hand with rent increases of some 10% in the past year, according to the daft.ie report, increases in house prices in the past year of 14% and the financialisation of housing, which has seen the turning of homes into assets. It has gone hand in hand with the creation of generation rent - an entire generation made up of people who cannot afford to buy their own homes even though they want to and who are being forced into renting. It has gone hand in hand with the decline in home ownership I referenced. This is particularly serious in an Irish context because our welfare state is very much based on home ownership. It is where many of the supports went into over the years. Our pension provision is based on the idea that the majority of people will own their own homes when they retire. We are already seeing increasing numbers of pensioners at risk of homelessness and becoming homeless because they can no longer afford rents. That will become a greater problem in the coming years.

I was particularly struck at the launching of Housing for All that the party leaders all talked about increasing home ownership. However, looking at the targets in the plan and what the Government is doing in terms of attracting investment funds to buy up housing for rent tells a different story. If Housing for All meets its targets, the only impact on home ownership will be a continued push to take ownership levels further down. The plan is predicated on approximately one third of new homes going to owner-occupiers, with everything else going to support differing forms of rental provision, including a large number of institutional landlords. The truth is that the current trajectory of Government policy is to continue to decrease home ownership. Part of the drive behind investment by institutional landlords is that it goes hand in hand with build to rent provision.

Look at what has happened to apartment standards and sizes in recent years. In the past three years in Dublin alone, apartment sizes of new-build apartments have decreased by almost 20%. Apartment sizes have gone from 89 sq. m in the second quarter of 2018 to just 62 sq. m in the second quarter of 2021. That is the legacy of current policy. Look at the housing needs assessment of Dublin City Council and the analysis carried out by KPMG on behalf of Dublin City Council. They predict that of new households formed between 2023 and 2028 in Dublin city, and in the Minister's constituency, only 18% will be able to afford to rent. Only 15% of those new households will be able to afford to buy a home. Everybody else will require either social housing or subsidised rents and supports. Therefore, almost 70% of new households will not be able to afford to meet their own housing needs. Look at their year-on-year analysis of the numbers of people who will be able to afford their own rent without subsidies. The numbers able to buy their own home will decrease year on year while, the report predicts, rents will go up and up.

The key feature in this is the uneven playing field we have. Since the Celtic tiger collapsed, we rightly have had mortgage lending rules that are difficult and restrictive for people but there also is an advantage to them, in that they combat house price inflation. On the other hand, while individuals and families have those restrictive rules, there is no such regulation or rules around investment funds. That is an uneven playing field. That is what creates this unfairness. Clearly, we need a fair regulatory regime on this. We need rules to be written that are fair and that are actually to the advantage of individuals and families, not to the advantage of investment funds. That is what is missing here.

It is worth looking at the yields on apartments, which are largely owned by investment funds. The recent daft.ie report talks about yields on one-bedroom apartments in Dublin 1, in the Minister’s constituency, at 8%; in Dublin 10 at 10.3%; and in my constituency of Dublin 17 at 11.4%. These are staggeringly high annual yields. That is the kind of environment that has been created for institutional investment funds by the attractive tax treatment that has been put forward by the Government. There is clearly no need for such levels of tax incentives and tax treatment, given such high yields. With yields that high, individuals cannot compete. Only one thing will happen as a result of yields that high, which is that the price of new-build homes will continue to go up and up.

An excellent report was recently published by Professor Daniela Gabor and Professor Sebastian Kohl. It was produced for the European Greens group in the European Parliament. It is called “My Home is an Asset Class: Housing Financialization in Europe". While I am not used to quoting from Government parties in the Dáil, or from their European groupings, this is an excellent report that is well worth quoting. It states "Europe’s residential real estate has become an attractive asset class for investors worldwide, supported by a range of government policies that are ostensibly aimed at homeowners [but in fact push] up house prices and reduces affordability for citizens". The report goes on to state "Institutional ownership threatens to accelerate the trends unleashed by the financialization of housing: deeper financial markets have not substantively increased either aggregate home ownership or housing supply, but instead have inflated house prices". All this sounds familiar in terms of Ireland.

The authors also cite studies on both US and European cities, which “identify negative consequences for housing affordability”. The report notes that a report from the EU Commission on financialisation of housing in seven European cities had a similar conclusion in terms of housing affordability. It goes on to say that: “institutional investors hold back the supply of urban land, thus increasing housing shortages and driving up prices, as documented in relation to Ireland”, of course. Importantly, they make the point in relation to the regulatory side of what happened after the financial collapse that “substantive efforts to regulate global banking after the collapse of Lehman Brothers have not been matched by similar policies to regulate systemic institutional investors”. That is the key problem here. There have rightly been tight controls over bank lending, which affect smaller builders and individual families who are trying to buy. However, that tight regulation has not been matched for investment funds. In fact, there has been no tight regulation at all. It is that imbalance that needs to be corrected urgently.

The utterly hopeless and disastrous situation in which many working people find themselves when it comes to trying to do the basic thing of putting a roof over their heads was summed up this week for me by a young man who came into my clinic. He works in retail and he is a low-paid worker. He works in retail and he worked all during the pandemic. His partner is also in low-pay, part-time employment. Both of them are working. They are both trying to get on in life. They came into my clinic to tell me that both of them were being removed from the housing list, because they have gone over the income threshold. Their combined income now goes very slightly over €35,000 net. They are now off the housing list, having been waiting on it for 11 years.

I want the Minister for Finance to think about this. First, had the State discharged its obligation to them, as well as to the 5,000 other families in our area and we can also mention the approximately 100,000 across the country, they would now be in a council house. Regardless of what happened to their income, their rent would increase related to their income. They would not be thrown out of the council house because their income increased. Ironically, however, because they do not have a home, and because the State failed in its duty for 11 years to provide them with the home to which they were entitled, now that their income has risen, they have been flung off the list. Does the Minister get the injustice of that? In addition, I received another text this week about a case that I have raised three times in this House, of a young woman who has also been thrown off the list. She is working for CPL and is placed in the Government agency Tusla, where she works very vulnerable children. She worked all the way during the pandemic. She is in homeless accommodation with her daughter but has been thrown off the housing list.

By the way, when one is thrown off the housing list, one does not get the housing assistance payment, HAP, any more. In my area, when that happens, one is told to go out and find private rented accommodation. The average rents that are being charged in my area are now €2,200. The Minister can go on daft.ie and look for an apartment in my area. It will be €2,200. Even if they were entitled to HAP, which now they are not, the maximum HAP rate is €1,950, if one is homeless. However, they do not even get that now because their income, apparently, is too high. That is the cost at which the Minister’s friends, the build-to-rent property investors, are delivering housing in my area. By the way, there is a lot of building going on in Dún Laoghaire at the moment. Are the prices going down? No, they are going up.

The entire response of the Minister is based on a fantasy. I remember Michael Noonan always used to accuse us on the left of fantasy economics. Yet, who is peddling the fantasy? Seriously? When the private sector was delivering 70,000 to 90,000 houses a year in this country, treble the figure of what it is delivering now, did rents go down? No, they went up. Did property prices go down? No, they went up. These strategic housing developments, SHDs, are unfolding all over the city. They built for profit, not built for need. They are not built for that couple who came into my clinic. They are built to make money for property investors who are charging €2,200 per month. Alternatively, if one wanted to purchase a house in my area, which is obviously a hopeless aspiration for a couple earning just over €35,000, the average house prices being delivered by the Minister’s friends in the private sector is €560,000.

Maybe the Government's affordable housing scheme could help them, but it is capped at €450,000. When that was initially brought in, I thought it was a joke that €450,000 was considered an affordable home. A loan for 80% of that, which is what the shared equity scheme involves, would be €360,000. To get a loan from a bank for that amount, people would need to be earning between €100,000 and €120,000. Clearly, the couple who came into my home, or the vast majority of ordinary workers, would not have a chance. Now, however, it has gotten even worse because there are no houses for €450,000, which was already unaffordable. Killian Woods and the Business Post did a report on how this scheme might apply in Dublin. Of the 50 developments they surveyed, only four had any homes that were on sale at below €450,000. In my area, there were zero. What is the Government going to do about that fact? These people are building for profit.

I missed the debate on "Claire Byrne Live" last night but I am glad we are finally debating socialism, even if it involves a load of people attacking socialists. At least we are debating it. Does the Minister of State know what socialism means? Socialism means housing for need. Capitalism means housing for greed. Housing for greed delivers rents of €2,000 or €2,200 and affordable property prices of €450,000 but in actuality, properties of €560,000. That is what housing for greed does. That is what capitalism does. Yet, the Government peddles the fantasy that eventually the rents and prices are going to fall. They are not going to fall. That is a total fantasy. What do we need to do? The Government says we could not possibly do anything without these investment funds. I am scratching my head thinking about this because we managed to build houses in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s without investment funds, cuckoo funds and vulture funds. How did we manage it then? We did it, but the Government is telling us we cannot possibly do it now without those funds, and that we cannot introduce rent controls because to do so would terrify them. They will all run away if we introduce real rent controls to make rent affordable. Strangely enough, that has just been done in France. A transition year student who was doing her placement in my office this week found that out for me. Maybe the Government should look into that. They have introduced rent controls and set maximum levels on a district-by-district basis, so people can only charge a certain amount for a property of a certain size. Why can we not do that? The property investors have not all run away from France. The Government's arguments are threadbare and its policy is failing disastrously.

There was an astonishing ruling today by the Office of the Planning Regulator, whereby it blocked a city council from introducing some small degree of control on build-to-rent apartment blocks. Dublin City Council had the temerity to insist that a percentage of apartments in build-to-rent developments be made available for sale. Second, it sought to restrict the number of studio and one-bedroom apartments in any development. Third, it sought to stipulate that build-to-rent developments should contain 100 units or more and be sufficiently large to include communal facilities. This ruling is a win for big institutional corporate investors and is a blow to both communities and local democracy in this State. How are ordinary people and communities meant to have a say in the planning process when a city development plan can be overruled by a planning regulator in this way? Rulings like this give the owners of build-to-rent developments a free hand, which will result in the raising of rents. There is no question about that. It is happening already in Dublin and is beginning to happen in Cork. In Cork, a developer was told by Deloitte that if they wanted their apartments to be viable - in other words, profitable - they would have to charge €2,800 for a two-bedroom apartment. In my community of Blackpool, a build-to-rent development has been given the go-ahead on the Redforge Road and an application has been submitted for Hewitt's Mill. Rents that go anywhere near that level will raise the ceiling for rents in that community and there will be a tendency for rents more generally to rise in the area. This does not mean we are against housing. We are in favour of housing and apartments but it should be social housing and genuinely affordable housing, not rip-off rents at incredible rates that raise the ceiling and impoverish ordinary people while making huge profits for the vulture funds.

Deputy Fitzpatrick is sharing time with Deputy Tóibín.

I very much welcome the opportunity to speak. I thank the Deputies for bring this motion before the House. I welcome the fact that we can discuss the housing crisis once more and discuss why we are in this position. In my home town of Dundalk, the rental cost for a standard three-bedroom house is anywhere between €1,200 and €1,600 per month. To service a mortgage on that same property would be substantially less, but the fact of the matter is that the people paying rent of between €1,200 and €1,600 per month are, in most instances, not able to get a mortgage for that same property. This is one of the main reasons for the crisis we are in now. How is that people who can afford to pay this rent cannot get a mortgage? It makes no sense whatsoever. I have spoken about this previously and about how it is unfair to those striving to get on the property ladder.

We heard today how many new homes and apartments are being purchased in bulk by real estate investment trusts and institutional investors. I agree that this is a problem. They can outbid ordinary people for new properties and there is no doubt that they are driving the price of houses up. They are also driving the cost of rent up, which is not acceptable. The fact that real estate investment trusts and Irish real estate funds pay no corporation tax on rental income, or capital gains tax on the disposal of assets from their rental income business, is wrong. Why is this allowed to happen? As the motion states, it is having a detrimental effect on the Irish residential property market and the private rental sector. These institutions should no longer have these tax advantages when competing with first-time buyers in the property market. Their tax advantages should be abolished as a matter of urgency. They are distorting rental and property markets to the detriment of families who are struggling very hard to buy their own house.

A recent report by BNP Paribas Real Estate stated that 4,900 private rental sector properties were bulk purchased by investment funds in 2021, at an average of 32% above the asking price. The value of these investments is estimated at €2.27 billion and unless action is taken that is expected to grow even more in the coming years. How can ordinary families and workers compete against these institutions? I agree that legislation must be introduced to end the tax advantages and exemptions that have been granted to institutional investors, including real estate investment trusts and Irish real estate funds. Why do these institutions have these advantages? There is no justification for it.

One area that we need to look at is vacant homes. I have spoken many times on this issue and have repeatedly highlighted the issues in my home town of Dundalk. You could walk down any residential area of Dundalk and find at least one vacant property. How is this allowed? These properties are generally in well-established residential areas where the necessary services are already in place. I have previously highlighted the work of Louth County Council in bringing these vacant properties back into the housing stock. I know from my dealings with the council that these schemes have been very successful and the only thing holding Louth County Council back is the lack of funding from Government. Surely the Government can see the success of these schemes. Would it not be better to fund these schemes, instead of affording unfair tax advantages to institutional investors and trusts?

Recent data show that there are 44,905 residential and commercial properties lying vacant in the west, north west and Border areas like my constituency of Louth. The Government’s own targets state that we need 33,000 new homes on an annual basis. Surely the way forward is to tackle these vacant homes first and bring them back to the market. As I have already stated, many of these vacant homes are in established residential areas where services like schools, shops, medical facilities and so on already exist. We need to focus on the issue of vacant homes, which will, in turn, dramatically help the housing crisis.

People want to get onto the property ladder.

I do not like what I am hearing in my constituency office. I have people coming to my constituency office saying - it is a long time since I heard this previously - that they would be better off on social welfare. I ask the Minister to not go down that road again. A married couple coming to see me who are on the basic wage earn between €35,000 and €40,000. Local authorities have not changed the limits relating to their housing lists for the past ten years. It is totally unfair. People are coming to me and saying that they are out working and want to work, that they are paying €1,200 to €1,600 a month on rent, that they are coming home with maybe €25,000 or €30,000 after they pay their taxes and the universal social charge and that they are left with nothing. If they gave up work tomorrow morning, they would get €1,320 in HAP towards the rent. They would get medical cards. They would get everything and it would only cost them €25 per week for the house. I ask the Minister not to forget the working people. I am saying €35,000, but what happens if they have children and have crèche costs? All I am asking the Minister is to look after middle-class people.

The crisis in the cost of living for people across the country is at an extreme level. Utility bills are going through the roof. Many people are getting bills of €600, €700, €800 or €900. Most families do not have that kind of cash lying around for such bills and some are getting into debt in order to try to cover the cost of them.

The number of people who have contacted my offices across my constituency of Meath West and Meath in general over the past couple of weeks and detailed the increases in their bills is incredible. One household saw their gas bill go from €91 to €206 from one billing period to the next. Another's Energia bill went from €156 to €342. A gas bill went from €280 to €620. Another family said that they were paying €864 for electricity having previously been charged €209. For one family, a bill for €1,200 came in for gas and electricity at a single moment. Those types of bill increases put the so-called supports that the Government has come up with in the ha'penny place.

The truth of the matter is that the spending power of someone on the average income in the State has fallen by €2,000 in the space of a year. That is a significant reduction. When you compare that reduction in salary for members of the general public with the largesse of the Government in giving a €100,000 increase to the Secretary General of the Department of Health, it shows how we have a tale of two countries. There are two parallel experiences and existences happening under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael in the State.

The Government has been great in saying that these price increases are as a result of external issues, but the truth is that Ireland is now the sixth most expensive state in the EU. Dublin is the third most expensive city in the whole of Europe. Currently, only two Swiss cities out-cost Dublin.

We have a cost-of-living crisis that is affecting so many things. It is affecting families' ability to pay their bills and to live, but it is also affecting this country's ability to compete internationally. If the cost of living goes out of control with runaway inflation rates in this State, what you will see is our inability to compete with other European countries and other locations internationally for jobs and investment in the future. It is working against our long-term economic interests as well. The issue is certainly getting worse.

The problem I have is that the Government has control over a number of levers but it refuses to operate them. I have ask the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, on a dozen occasions why he will not find a tax for houses that are vacant in the State and, in committee and here in the Dáil, he has said that he wants to find out more about it and does not want to rush into doing anything. There could be many other reasons. What the Minister has displayed is a complete lack of urgency at time when urgency is required.

The issue of childcare is hammering so many families at present. It is equivalent to a second mortgage. I have been talking to people in the industry today who tell me that the Minister and the Taoiseach are going out in public saying that there will be a cap on childcare prices in the State when, in fact, they still have not come to any negotiation or deal with the childcare sector. They have not told the childcare sector what level of income it will receive from the State and yet they are publicly saying that the childcare sector will not increase the cost of childcare in the future. We are still significantly behind other European countries with the level of investment that we are making in childcare.

Then, of course, you have the issue of the litre of fuel at the pumps. Sixty per cent of the price of fuel goes into the Government's pocket. We have a Government which is introducing carbon taxes on a population years in advance and which is completely oblivious to the conditions that those people will be experiencing at that time, and yet it will add that tax - one of the blindest and most blunt taxes that I have ever seen - to the cost-of-living crisis in May.

Last week's announcement by the Government of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party showed that it is alarmingly out of touch with people in this country. It is astonishing to think the Government could go ahead with so-called cuts to help people and still be so blind to the real crisis whereby we see working families in such a mess. People cannot pay their rent and are struggling to pay their mortgages. Others are struggling to put food on the table. Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party have left most families with a clear choice each day between opting for either food or heat.

The Government, with Sinn Féin, Labour and others, voted to bring in the carbon tax only a few months ago, even though the Rural Independent Group pleaded with them not to. Boy, what a mess they have created for ordinary families who are trying to work their way out of the crisis we are in at the moment with no help from a struggling Government. Two hundred euro off an electricity bill is as much as most families will get. The rest is tied up in a dream announcement that will have little to do with the ordinary families that I know.

The 20% reduction in public transport fares will suit the Green Party to perfection because those who use the DART, the train and Luas in Dublin city and its surrounds will benefit the most, as will anyone who uses Bus Éireann's services. Private bus operators do not receive any State intervention. They employ people who drive buses the length and breadth of this island - many of them from west Cork to Cork city daily. These operators will not get one brown cent from the 20% reduction. For many of them, this will mean laying off staff because this blind Government is giving an already subsidised bus service 20% more in subsidies and the private bus operator will get nothing. Surely the competition regulator has to get involved. To be honest, if they were all asleep, you could not write up this stuff. People who are paying massive rents, businesspeople with lorries and buses and contractors cannot wait to drag the Government to the ballot box as soon as possible in order to get rid of it.

I will just add that people who cannot get on the property ladder for one reason or another feel rightly let down after last week's announcements.

I thank Sinn Féin, especially Deputies Ó Broin and Doherty, for the work that they put in to this matter. We do not always agree 100% on everything and I would question their support of some of the carbon taxes, but this motion is nothing but a sincere attempt at trying to highlight the problems that we have.

This is no longer a Dublin crisis; it is countrywide. The Government is doing nothing whatsoever, in my humble opinion, to sort it, and I will tell the Minister why. First of all, however, I will declare an interest in all of these type of matters, as I always do.

When you look at the way the culture has been made to suit the massive institutional investors that come in from abroad, the fact that they are able to shelter so much money from tax and that they can buy up hundreds and hundreds of units at the same time, of course, that is not good at the end of the day for the person who is renting. That is one of the contributing factors to such increased rents and it is why it is so expensive for people who want to get on the property ladder and buy, whether it is an apartment or a house. This is not just the case in Dublin. As already stated, it is a countrywide problem. There is more to Ireland and more to the housing crisis than what is happening on this side of the Red Cow roundabout. We live outside the Red Cow roundabout - we are entitled to live there - and we have a housing crisis. We in County Kerry have a housing crisis. Every clinic that I go to, and every day and every hour that we are picking up the phone, it is people who are in trouble. It is the people themselves, the mothers, the fathers and the grandparents asking what are we going to do.

I do not know what in the name of God has happened this month, but the number of people who have been given notice to leave their homes has increased. I checked every one of them and some of them fall through the net and they are not done properly, but the majority of the notifications telling perhaps a young couple that they have to leave their home, are done properly. That is fine, but where are they supposed to go? I am sorry; I am out of time.

I, too, support the motion. The fact is that ordinary people cannot afford to heat their houses, live in them and put children in childcare or in school. They are to the pin of their collars. I asked last week if the Government wants to starve them out and for them to die in the ditches. It is shocking. The red carpet was rolled out for the banks with the bailout. Now the red carpet is out for institutional investors that can buy streets and housing estates while we persecute our own people. Our duty in here as Teachtaí Dála, messengers of the people, is to represent the people and to speak up for them. The Government has lost sight of the ordinary people. It does not seem to care about them, and it does not seem to understand anybody.

I thank the staff in my office and in all offices that are overrun with people coming in with all kinds of issues. The HAP was a disaster. We now have billions spent on HAP and we have no houses. It was stupid policy, yet we continue with it.

Spending power is way down. This is the sixth most expensive country in Europe. How come Sweden could bring down the price of food to 2018 levels, yet we cannot do anything? As I stated last week, it is €1.70 for a litre of petrol, a euro of which goes on taxes. This is shocking.

We introduced a motion on carbon taxes, which I proposed, and nine other Independents voted for it, as did Sinn Féin. We cannot have it both ways. We are going to have another carbon tax increase coming up. People just cannot afford to live - ordinary hardworking, decent people. There are no services in rural Ireland. It was laughable last week to hear about the 20% reduction in public transport fares. That is lovely for the people who have the Luas and DART, but what about the people out in the country? What about the people who use the Ring a Link service and other services in rural Ireland? I support the motion, but I am aghast at what is going on.

I am happy to have an opportunity to speak on this very important issue. We know that people are struggling, in particular working families, and finding it very hard to make ends meet. I have no intention of engaging in a game whereby any or all private investment in the housing market is automatically a bad thing, because I do not feel that is the case. That is an absurd position to adopt. What I will say, however, is that like in so many areas, it is a matter of proportion and balance. For example, we should be rewarding and helping the small contractor and the local builder who want to tender for contracts with a local authority so that they can provide homes for their communities and build up their workforce, thereby offering much valuable local employment. That is an issue we must get to grips with: how we allow the small contractor who can provide work and who can build houses to effectively tender for State contracts. These people have their roots in communities, and they have something valuable to offer in terms of the local economy and much-needed employment.

It is evident that there is a major power imbalance. Unfortunately, all the power is on one side. In many ways, the large institutional investors have us over a barrel. They know we have a housing crisis. The State is slow to build and so they come in offering manna from heaven in the form of much needed homes, but then the prices are simply put of the reach of so many potential homeowners, young couples and ordinary workers. We must address the distortion, in particular in the rental and property markets, which, as the motion says, is to the determinant of workers, families and struggling home buyers.

I am glad to get the opportunity to speak. I thank Sinn Féin for facilitating this very important debate. I agree with the motion, but I have a different angle I wish to raise. We are talking about tackling the cost of living, which has gone up exorbitantly because of the cost of fuel - diesel, petrol and home heating oil. We know that this has gone up worldwide, but the tax take is bigger. The Minister has left the Chamber. The tax take has increased. I again ask the Government to forgo the increase and to give it back, so as to give working people a chance. People in rural Ireland have to travel to work and they must have a car in order to do that. Regardless of what the Minister for Transport, Deputy Eamon Ryan, thinks about bicycles and other things, people need cars in order to get to work. Transport costs have gone through the roof. No heed has been given to the lorry men and the plight they are in. The diesel rebate should be increased, and the Government should forgo the extra tax.

What is the Government trying to do but to raise the carbon tax again? Diesel costs for farmers have doubled. Fertiliser costs have trebled. Because the Greens hate the farmers, they will do nothing for them. God and his mother know that the cost of food will go up when the farmers' costs go up.

I want to raise another thing. A poor old man rang me today. He rang the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, about the wonderful grants for heating homes. He asked what he was entitled to. The SEAI looked for his address and his date of birth. He was told that he got a grant for attic insulation about ten years ago and a grant to fill the cavity walls. He wanted external and internal insulation, but he was told he would not qualify.

The Deputy's time is up.

The Minister should give up codding people like that and driving them mad. They are on the phone ringing to see what is wrong. Just because they got €500 or €600 seven, eight or ten years ago, they will get nothing now.

The time is up.

Why does the Government want to raise the carbon tax to further drive the situation mad and out of people's control?

I thank Deputy Danny Healy-Rae and call Deputy Harkin.

Can I start again because the Minister was out of the Chamber?

I wish to raise a point of order. It is very hurtful to the Rural Independent Group. On behalf of Deputy Mattie McGrath, our chairman-----

As soon as I started, the Minister went out the door. It is very disrespectful.

As soon as Deputy Michael Collins started, the Minister for Finance went out the door.

No, that is not a point of order.

That is very unfair.

The Deputies should please be assured there is no offence.

Is he not entitled to have the Minister inside here?

Ministers have to come and go because they have lots of duties apart from sitting here.

The Minister is here now. We will go away now that the Minister has come. I just want to say to him that it is bad manners.

I am not quite speaking to an empty Dáil, but anyway I thank Sinn Féin for bringing forward this motion, which contains a number of proposals to tackle the cost of living in the context of institutional investors in the residential property market.

All of us in this House would agree that the provision of homes to buy and rent is beyond crisis point. This issue is not new. This crisis has been escalating year-on-year. It is not a crisis manufactured by any Opposition party. It is real crisis for families, individuals, young people and pensioners. It is a crisis that affects urban and rural areas alike.

Being able to call somewhere home is essential to ensure a sense of security that is fundamental to all of us as human beings. Being able to open, step through and close our front door behind us gives those of us in that position a real sense of belonging, a sense of place, the feeling that we are at home. The word "home" is so powerful and it means so much in so many different ways. As a person or family without a home, either one you own or rent with some decent level of certainty around the tenancy, you are just adrift. You have no anchor. All the other things we talk about in this place, whether it is employment, education or community are all irrelevant if you do not have a home. That is why we speak of a crisis.

At one time, this crisis was much more acute in the cities and urban areas. If you are a person without a home, however, it is acute no matter where you live.

Certainly, the numbers were greater. That is no longer the case. If we look at the facts, we can see that, excluding the cities, the average rent across the country in the last year stands at just over €1,100 per month, an increase of 11.9% on the previous year. In the west, in counties like Roscommon, Leitrim and Mayo, rents rose by 20% on a year-on-year basis, which is 8% more than the average. Indeed, four of the five largest annual increases in the country were in the western region in quarter 2 of 2021, with increases of 21% in Leitrim, 17% in Clare and Donegal and 50% in Sligo. That is for increases in the cost of renting a home but if we look at the cost of buying a home - house prices - what we see is that the move away from the larger urban centres has had a very significant impact. If we look at median house prices, the percentage change from 2019 to 2021 is 11% in Donegal, 16% in Leitrim, 8% in Sligo and 14% in Roscommon.

I could be giving statistics and figures all day long but that does not give a real picture of what it is like for people who are trying to buy a home. Like many others in this Chamber, I get emails and calls all of the time from people at the end of their tether because they cannot find a place to rent or to live. The Government tells us that the problem is one of supply, and there is a lot of truth in that. However, if we look at completions in the last three years, 2019, 2020 and 2021, we see that in the western region, the numbers are paltry, from just over 2,600 completions in 2019 to 2,758 in 2021. In my own county of Sligo, the completions were 118 in 2019 and 143 in 2021, a minuscule increase. I know we have Covid and that has obviously impacted on the number of completions but the Government tells us that this is a problem of supply. It is the Government and it has to find a solution to that.

Many of the proposals in this motion will help to start addressing the crisis that we are speaking of here. I want to focus in particular on one, the last proposal, which asks that the Government would: “provide additional capital funding to local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies to forward purchase such developments for the provision of social, affordable rental and affordable purchase homes, given some developments require forward purchase agreements to ensure their viability and delivery.” To me, this is a very important issue because the upfront costs of developing and building homes can be very significant. One of the things we could do, for example, is to look to the Housing Agency to fund the upfront costs and provide the mezzanine funding that is necessary to local authorities and to approved housing bodies. I also believe we should look to the same Housing Agency to lend money for what I would call genuine projects, for the building of homes where the outcome would ensure affordable homes, because there is no point in Government money fuelling an increase in the cost of homes. We have a Housing Agency that is managing the mica redress scheme. Why do we not task that agency with managing what I am speaking of here, that is, the upfront costs to local authorities and approved housing bodies, or to local builders and developers who will provide local homes in local areas, as well as local employment? That proposal perhaps needs some refinement but I think it is a very valuable one because it deals with the reality of building homes.

During Covid, we did a lot of good things. The Government did a lot of good things, for example, it guaranteed businesses. We guaranteed the banks during the crash but what we are talking about today is bread and butter stuff. My question is this: why can we not guarantee housing?

My final point again comes back to local authorities. We know that local authorities built houses 20 or, certainly, 30, 40 and 50 years ago. Unfortunately, because policy changes, some of the expertise has been lost and it will take time to get that back. However, there is still a lot that could be done, for example, with derelict homes in towns and villages. I know there are grants for individuals to perhaps do up these houses but why not resource local authorities to help to deliver local housing in this way?

I have listened carefully to many of the Deputies opposite in their well-intentioned arguments on the increase in the cost of living. As a rural Deputy in Longford-Westmeath, I too, through my weekly clinics, meet very vulnerable people every single week that I attend Dáil Éireann and right through the year, people who are trying to find a solution, who are looking for help and who want support at a very vulnerable time in their lives. One thing I want to make very clear from the outset is that I am meeting vulnerable people in very difficult situations and I am doing my best, as part of a Government response, to try to provide sustainable and genuine solutions for those people.

If we look in broad terms at where we are currently, with a new plan to deliver large-scale residential housing for our citizens right across the State out to 2030, we have seen small, incremental progress. However, when we look at the big numbers since 2016, we have increased the delivery of social homes tenfold. Those are real solutions for people right across the State. That is coming from an extremely low base, where two thirds of construction sectors workers had left the State, where our economy was spending 50% more than it took in as income and where we had 3,000 ghost estates, with the Department trying to implement remedial schemes up and down the country. We have moved to a position where we have a very clear, plan-led direction for our country, and where we have a new national planning framework to deliver and unlock the potential right across our State for all of our citizens.

When we look at the housing plan, €4 billion in multi-annual funding is guaranteed to give certainty to the marketplace and the State in delivering viable solutions. We see the large-scale increase in affordable purchase and also the cost rental model providing certainty for citizens at 25% below market rent. Those are real solutions. In this city over the last four years, there has been a 33% reduction in the social housing list. That is progress. I know many will criticise the pace and it should be done faster, but given the circumstances the Government is operating in and the huge challenges, it is making progress. When we look at the commencement notices, we can see 31,000 units are now commenced, which is a huge, 42% improvement on 2020. Again, those are real solutions for families up and down this State and will provide huge hope.

In my locality, when I see people coming in and out of my clinic, I can point to four or five individual sites in my town, with more than 100 units being delivered on them. That is hope for people because the diggers and the tradespeople are there, delivering those houses, which are coming.

I know it is difficult to get to that space but they are being delivered at scale.

There is a cross-Government approach in the way we have supported the most vulnerable in our society to defray the cost of living increases. That goes from increasing the State pension at a time when inflation was not as high to more targeted measures like the fuel allowance payment and our drugs payment scheme. These support people on the front line who need that support most. On a broader base, people who are struggling like two-income families or middle-income earners have the energy payment, as well as the reductions that were taken from our standard rate cut-off point and the increase in tax credits over the budgetary process. The party I am a member of increased the minimum wage by 37% in recent years and we have put a priority on taking 35% of workers out of the tax net because they are the most vulnerable people in our society. The party I am a member of saw the deprivation index reduce because we are supporting the most vulnerable in our society with those targeted measures. We do so by increasing housing supply, by supporting those in most need through the measures I referenced and by ensuring that those in a progressive tax system who do not earn as much do not pay any tax. We saw the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and many people quote different figures but it said in black and white that the effective tax rate for high net worth individuals was over 40%. When I was a remember of the Committee of Public Accounts that was clear on page 249 of that report and I will not forget it. When one hears discourse in this House sometimes one would think there is a magic number of people earning huge and colossal amounts of money at the expense of the State and paying no tax. The research and evidence do not back up that and one can see that in the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report.

As we try to ensure people have real solutions, we see other parties promise and talk about what they will do but if one looks at what they said and promised compared with what this Government did, we have exceeded much of what the party opposite in particular said it would do. In particular, I refer to its target of delivering 36,500 houses from its 2016 manifesto and the Government delivered 39,000 houses a year earlier. I look at our analysis and I see 16,000 Momma and Poppa landlords exiting the marketplace since 2016. Then I look at Sinn Féin seeking to put a €400 second home charge on those people who are also trying to make ends meet and deliver sustainable rental accommodation. Sinn Féin’s response to a market in crisis is to tax it more. When I look at housing developments there are objections from Sinn Féin time after time. We saw public houses proposed to be exclusively built on public land in Kilbride Lodge in Wicklow objected to by Sinn Féin. This is at a time when we are trying to prioritise employment and we saw how the Minister for Finance underwrote employment and supported people throughout the crisis, be it through the employment wage subsidy scheme, EWSS, the Covid restrictions support scheme, CRSS, and rates waivers. He did so to ensure that people did not lose that vital link with their jobs. At that time Sinn Féin was proposing to increase employer’s PRSI and put a greater tax on people being employed and in turn no risk assessment had been carried out for that. At a time when the Government was spending billions trying to maintain that link between the employer and the employee, Sinn Féin’s response was to tax them more.

I refer to the various mechanisms that are being proposed opposite such as increasing stamp duty by 66%. If a small business owner is expanding then how will that fare with him or her trying to get into a new premises or expand the business? If a farmer is trying to consolidate his or her holdings then how will that affect him or her? Not everyone qualifies for the minority of reliefs one sometimes hears referenced by Sinn Féin. Again, people have to be supported in the best use of public resources and when one is in government decisions have to be made. Decisions are difficult because one is trying to balance competing interests every day of the week and that is something I do not take lightly. I am privileged and humbled to be part of a Government that is doing its best. I know the background I come from and the people I meet week-in and week-out at my clinic and I can genuinely say that every day in government one does one’s best to take the best decisions for the best interests of the public. In the measures we have brought in that I have referenced we are doing our best to do that.

We should never take away hope in a debate because the numbers back up the fact that we are at a huge capacity in our construction sector. We can see that we are getting more apprenticeships in through the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Harris, in further and higher education. We can also see that the output in completions forecasted by the Central Bank in the coming years will exceed 30,000 and that we will get to that figure of 33,000 that the ESRI says we need. Hopefully we will exceed that and we are working so hard to deliver that across all tenures. Members can come into this House and identify many different problems but those on the other benches are trying to do their best to meet one of the biggest challenges we have ever faced in housing, coming from a position when all our local authorities were saturated in debt less than a decade ago. The measures we are bringing in include bringing vacant properities back into use. Our zoned land and capture sharing taxes are potentially coming down the line shortly, which signals to the marketplace that we mean business in delivering large numbers of homes for the most vulnerable and for every part of society. It has to be a broad base that delivers homes all across our economy.

I want to mention the issues of rents, which loads of Members have mentioned. I do not like to say it is at crisis point because it has nearly gone beyond that at this stage. In the two clinics I run, one in Kilkenny and one in Bagenalstown in Carlow, I had an individual in each, one of whom is due to be out of his or her property this Saturday and the other of whom is due to be out in the next two months. There is no hope of finding anything at all for them and it is so difficult. It is even difficult to know what to say to people in this situation because I ask them if they have applied to various landlords about anything that might be coming up and everybody is applying for everything. At the moment there are ten properties in Kilkenny and nine in Carlow. Then there is the situation with HAP. For example, if you are single you are entitled to €490 of HAP and you do not have a hope of reaching some of these properties listed at between €1,100 and €1,500 in some cases. We really need urgency on rental properties. I also want to make the point that not everyone qualifies for HAP. A lot of people are in real difficulty and do not qualify for any supports.

I want to mention the fuel allowance because this is a major issue with the cost of living. We have seen so many people, particularly elderly people, who should not be worried about the cost of heating and they are under pressure. I also want to mention that a lot of people do not qualify for fuel allowance. One of our suggestions was to include people who are on the working family payment in the fuel allowance and we need to look at that. In the longer term we need to look at the issue of retrofitting, which I know we will debate later this week in the Chamber. I want to make the point that a lot of the grants are not fit for purpose and that people do not have the balance of the funds. The SEAI has a waiting list of over a year, which is crazy. There is no common sense in some of the schemes and they really need to be fit for purpose. Those are the kind of schemes we should be looking at if we want to reduce costs for people in the long term and if we are serious about the climate.

The average rent in my home city of Limerick is €1,407 per month, that is if one is lucky enough to be able to find a property. Today there were nine properties available on daft.ie and two of those houses were for more than €4,000 per month. I do not know who can afford that in Limerick and there was only one house available for less than €2,000 per month so we have priced working families out of the market. They have nowhere to go because they earn too much to get social supports and the Government refused to increase the income limit so people can access social supports, whether that be council housing or HAP. There is supposed to be a review ongoing in the Department but any official I have spoken to tells me there is no review ongoing or no target date for when that will be done.

The Minister of State talked about addressing the cost of living and about the minimum wage.

The minimum wage increased by 3% this year but with inflation running at 5%, that represents a reduction in real terms. The Government has not done anything to help those on the lowest levels of pay. The extreme cost of rent and house purchase has not come out of the blue but is the result of failure after failure on the part of this Government and its predecessors. The refrain we hear most often from Government parties is that housing is not an issue that can be fixed overnight but if we stick with them, they will deliver. We have had 11 years of failure in relation to the cost of housing by these parties and it is time to realise that they cannot and will not fix this crisis which is of their own making.

Yesterday the Minister's colleagues in Fianna Fáil launched a social media attack on Sinn Féin and its housing policies that was fairly pathetic. Let us get something straight here. The Minister's colleague in government, who is a constituency colleague of mine, Deputy O'Dea, was quoted in the Sunday Times, when talking about investing in social housing and Government incentives, as saying "In this world, everybody has to make a few bob, you know". He suggested that there was money to be made, while Irish citizens were locked out of the housing and rental markets. I am sure Fianna Fáil will produce some more of its pathetic little graphics for social media to suggest that Sinn Féin is the problem when it comes to housing which is, of course, nonsense. Let us be clear on a few points. The Government has not delivered affordable homes to rent or to buy on the scale that is needed. Under this Government, rents and house prices have increased and working families are priced out of the market. The tax advantages and exemptions for investment funds were not gifted by Sinn Féin. The rich got richer and made, as Deputy O'Dea would say, more than a few bob. It was on this Government's watch that 4,900 private rental sector properties were bulk-purchased by investment funds in 2021.

In the past hour we have heard the usual excuses and well-versed defences from Government, something that has not changed in the years that I have been raising this issue. Any investors, cuckoo funds or vulture funds listening to the contributions from the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, will be happy enough because they know that their lads in Fine Gael have their back. Nothing is going to change, according to the two lads here. The Minister for Finance tried in his speech to convince us all that the vulture funds are poor souls, trying to do their best for the ordinary renters and home purchasers out there and that maybe we should shed a tear for them. The reality, however, is very different. The fact that the Minister did not even talk about the fact they do not pay any corporation tax or capital gains tax shows that there is no defence for the sweetheart deals he and his colleagues have given to these funds over the last few years.

One of the myths peddled by the Government, and reiterated by the Minister this evening, is that these funds finance residential developments that would otherwise not be built. This is not the first time we have heard this. The Minister has said it numerous times previously. Indeed, his party leader, the Tánaiste, told the Dáil that the role of these funds was to finance the construction of developments which would not otherwise have been built because such developments were not able to get funding from banks. That is what he told this House but that is blatantly untrue. As the estate agents Hooke and MacDonald noted in a recent report on residential investment in Dublin, very few institutional investors have funded the development and construction of properties they bought in the Irish market. That is the truth and not what Deputies Donohoe and Varadkar have said, and not the spin that is coming from this Government.

Last week a report from BNP Paribas found that investment funds bulk-purchased 4,900 properties in 2021 alone and they paid 32% more than the average asking price. They paid 32% more because they believe that rents are going to stay at current levels. Those same properties are now being rented out at extortionate prices. The prices are extortionate; there is no other word for it but the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, wants us to shed a tear at the prospect that the funds might have to pay €400 more, even though they do not pay any tax whatsoever. These funds have more fire power than ordinary workers and families. If the Government cares, it must do something about it. They have more fire power and the Government is actually making things worse. It has given them even more fire power because its policies gives them a greater advantage over workers and families and that is the blunt truth. There is no hiding place from this.

Home Building Finance Ireland, HBFI, which is wholly owned by the Minister for Finance, was set up by the Government to finance residential development. It has provided €264 million in funding for five developments comprising a total of 916 units. Those units have been or will be bought up by these same funds. Taxpayer funding of more than a quarter of a billion euro is being provided to develop homes but those homes will never come on the market. The funds buy them right from the start. The funds agree to buy them and charge eye-watering rents of €2,000 plus but the Minister for Finance, with the support of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, tells them that they do not have to pay one cent of tax on the millions of euro they get in rental income. Any other company or individual would have to pay tax on that rental income but the Government has decided that these funds should have special privileges. They can boost up rental and house prices. They can pay 32% over the asking prices, thus pushing up house prices for everybody else. Then the Government tries to convince us that ordinary renters, workers and families are at the heart and core of its housing policies but nothing could be further from the truth. The Government's policies only serve one purpose and that is to support the funds.

In May 2020 the Dublin-based investment advisory firm Gillen Markets wrote a note to international investors on our housing market and why it is broken. It said that current housing policy has benefited both institutions and developers at the expense of individual buyers. The aim of institutions is to maximise rental income from their properties and developers are designing apartment blocks to maximise this income for the institutions rather than aiming to meet the needs of society. It went on to say that the current high level of house prices and rents in Ireland in the residential property market has been driven to a significant extent by Government housing policies aimed at attracting institutional investors into the market. Their gradual move into the market has contributed to higher housing prices and higher rents. These are not my words or the words of Sinn Féin. This is the market talking to itself, exposing what Fine Gael in government has done over the last ten years. Successive Governments have rolled out the red carpet to funds, given them more fire power and allowed them to push up prices for ordinary people but the public can no longer stand for it. What is happening is crazy. People are pleading with the Government to take away the advantage the funds enjoy. Why under God would the Government allow them to outbid ordinary families who are in desperate need of homes? Why is it allowing them to do it? Neither the Minister nor the Minister of State addressed that question in their ten minute contributions. Not once did they justify allowing them to pay no tax, to outbid ordinary people and to push up rents in this city across the board.

This motion should be supported by anybody who has the interests of workers and families at heart rather than the profits of these funds.

Amendment put.

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

What happens to the amendment from the Labour Party?

It cannot be disposed of until we dispose of the amendment from the Minister for Finance.

When will that happen?

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