Poverty and Homelessness: Motion

I move:

That Seanad Éireann:


- the most recent Central Statistics Office, CSO, survey of income and living conditions that shows the number of households suffering deprivation has risen from 24.5% in 2011 to 30.5% in 2013 and the number living in consistent poverty has risen from 6.9% to 8.2%; and

- that the CSO also shows that the levels of deprivation and persistent poverty among one-parent families are even worse as the number of one-parent families suffering deprivation has risen by 13.7% in just one year to 63.2% in 2013 and the number living in consistent poverty has risen from 17.4% to 23% in the same period;


- the consistent rise in poverty, deprivation and hardship among families in Ireland that has resulted in up to 5,000 families and children being homeless and housed in temporary accommodation across cities and towns; and

- the policies that have created a situation where the latest statistics from 2013 show that 12% of children aged 0-17 years are living in consistent poverty, up more than 137,000 from 9.9% in 2012 and double the 6 per cent figure of 2008;

and calls for:

- urgent action to be taken to reduce the number of children being housed in emergency hotel accommodation;

- all local authorities to prioritise renovations to houses that need refurbishment in order that children can be taken out of emergency hotel accommodation;

- funding to be made available to implement the recommendations from the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, particularly to enable short-term and co-ordinated actions to be taken to deliver more housing for families;

- an emergency building programme to directly build, as a matter of urgency, more social and affordable housing; and

- to increase rent support to a level that ensures no one is made homeless or forced into poverty by unaffordable accommodation costs.

I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his election. With my Kerry connections, I am delighted to a see a Kerryman in the position. I wish him the best of luck for the coming term.

I propose the motion on behalf of my Fianna Fáil colleagues, as we believe the scandal of over 2,000 homeless children in the State needs to be addressed and resolved immediately. I thank the Minister of State for making himself available to listen to this debate.

At a pre-budget submission by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul yesterday, it was noted that it received, on average, 2,300 calls per week from families that requird its assistance to meet essential basic costs such as heating, food and clothing and that at a time of growth and recovery. One in nine children is living in consistent poverty, which means that these children live in households where the income is below 60% of the national median income. Children in lone-parent households are at particular risk of consistent poverty and deprivation and this deprivation can mean going 24 hours without a substantial meal, or being cold owing to the fact that the parent cannot afford to heat the home.

Given these increases in poverty levels, homelessness among families has risen to what is now accepted to be a crisis level. As I mentioned, more than 2,000 children are without a home and in emergency accommodation. This figure does not include the many more thousands living in overcrowded homes and thousands more still are one small step away from losing their homes. Urgent action is needed to end the practice of housing homeless families in hotel rooms. In recent weeks Focus Ireland warned that the record number of homeless families, combined with the pressure on hotel rooms due to increased economic activity, meant that the risk of families sleeping rough had re-emerged. This is putting additional stress on parents and children in an already stressful position.

Hotel accommodation is wholly unsuitable for families, as children do not have space to play, a table on which to eat a meal or complete homework, or the privacy to develop and grow as individuals. Educators and charities supporting children living in emergency hotel accommodation report that children are not able to get a proper night's sleep and are arriving at school sleep-deprived, which naturally has a knock-on effect on their ability to learn and thrive in school. Often, hotel accommodation is far from schools and this leads to days being missed more frequently. This disruption to education has a lasting and long-term effect. Children often report they feel the stigma of homelessness more acutely owing to the fact they live in a hotel, as others who see them in their school uniform in a hotel know instantly that they are homeless.

We are all aware of the existence of empty local authority housing in our constituencies and priority must be given to refurbishing these housing units in order that families with children can be moved from hotel accommodation as quickly as possible, thereby giving these children the security of a permanent and high-quality roof over their heads. Only with this stability and security can they enjoy a happy childhood and thrive. I very much look forward to the publication of the report from the Committee on Housing and Homelessness this Friday and take the opportunity to thank the members of the committee for their diligence and commitment in the past few weeks. However, the recommendations of the committee regarding homeless families in emergency accommodation will only carry meaning and worth if the funding is provided to enable immediate and swift action; otherwise, they are moot.

It is acknowledged the lack of available housing has caused this crisis and it will only be solved on a long-term basis by the construction of more social and affordable housing. We are calling for an emergency building programme to do this. My colleague, Senator Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, will speak further about this. Families experiencing poverty and deprivation but who are currently in private rented accommodation need to be given assistance to remain in their homes in a climate where rents are ever-increasing. It is much easier to keep a family in its home than to help a family that has lost its home.

Childhood is short. The experiences we have as children shape the adults we become. Children living in poverty and children living without the security of a permanent home live life on the margins of society. They are unable to participate fully in the cultural activity of their community and struggle to reach their educational potential. This has an impact on their health and opportunities in life. Children who have experienced homelessness are far more likely to experience homelessness as adults and find it extremely difficult to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. In the centenary year of the Easter Rising, in particular, we must ensure all children have a home to call their own. Therefore, I call on the House to support the motion.

I gladly second the motion, as it is critical. The Minister of State is aware that there is a very urgent housing crisis. It is welcome that all local authorities recently received a new assessment of the social housing needs that will qualify people and let them know exactly what housing support is available. I want to know the figures for people in receipt of housing support and those who depend on rent supplement.

Will the Minister provide those figures separately? Also, can we have separate figures for Dublin and rural counties? I would appreciate receiving figures for both.

Second, the Minister will be aware that we have accommodation that is unfit, overcrowded, unsuitable or unsuitable owing to exceptional medical needs or on compassionate grounds. These are people in real need. Their low priority is an indication that the Department has never highlighted them as a particular group. When one goes to the local authority, one's name is put on a housing list. Regardless of whether it is unfit or unsuitable accommodation, one's name goes on the housing list, but one is not in a particular group. I ask the Minister to address this because it is an urgent issue. The people concerned in need must be made a priority.

The Department has long been informed of several sources for capitalising house purchases, whereby the rental money could be used to purchase houses instead of renting. I have a major issue with this. I believe the current crisis is due to the fact that we are renting or leasing and it is costing the Government and the country a fortune. There are cases where the Department is promoting the leasing of units and has prohibited councils from purchasing priority housing for a small amount of money. Councils are seeking to buy houses, but the Minister is not providing the money. He is saying, in effect, that we will continue renting but will not buy houses. That is unfair. I have some statistics from last year. In 2015 some €67 million was spent on renting, leasing and hotel and bed and breakfast accommodation. We must look forward and progress. We must buy and, as my colleague said, build housing.

I have a query for the Minister about capital construction. This is construction of local authority houses. There is a four stage plan for every local authority when it is building houses. I ask the Minister to reduce this four stage plan to a single stage plan. As he knows, when a local authority brings the first stage to the Department, it might not be returned for six months. After sending the second stage, it could be another six months to get it back. The timescale with this is not good enough. As there is a housing crisis, the Minister should change the four stage plan to a single stage plan.

There has been a housing crisis for the past two years, but I do not understand why the Minister and the Department, through the national spatial strategy, have reduced the amount of land zoned for housing. Under the spatial strategy, local authorities have had to do what we could call de-zoning - we have de-zoned lands. However, there is a need to build houses. There is a report in the newspaper today of a recommendation to the housing Department to consider building 50,000 local authority houses. I ask the Minister to change the national spatial strategy to enable us to build houses and give planning permission to build them, because we must.

There is major potential for the credit union sector to issue home loans to assist in meeting the major social need for housing. I ask the Minister to examine this aspect. In addition, I read a newspaper report today, although I understand this information emerged yesterday, that the Government is considering introducing legislation to put a moratorium on repossessions. I beg the Government to do this. This is probably one of the most urgent requirements of the Government - that it keep people and children in their homes. We have a crisis and unless these simple things are addressed it will not be solved. Renting is the reason there is a housing crisis.

I have a question for the Minister about my local authority in Carlow. Carlow is always forgotten. A maximum rate is set to get on the local authority housing list and in Carlow it is €25,000. If one is earning €25,000, one does not qualify to be put on the local authority housing list, yet in the neighbouring counties of Kilkenny, Laois and Wicklow the maximum is €30,000. Why has Carlow been forgotten again? Why is it that Carlow people cannot be put at the top of the scale at €30,000 like everybody else? I urge the Minister to answer all of these questions because they are serious issues.

In this day and age, it is criminal if every county in Ireland does not have a refuge for women and their children. There is no women's refuge in Carlow, nor is there emergency housing. As there is talk of €200 million being allocated to emergency housing, I ask the Minister to ensure every county in Ireland has a women's refuge. There are buildings which are being sold for reasonable prices and I am aware that the Minister must work with the HSE and Tusla in this regard. It is about everybody working together, but this must be done. As I said, we are in a crisis.

I welcome the new tenant purchase scheme. It had not been made available to local authorities for over two years. Who writes these schemes for local authorities? Again, the most vulnerable in the community are not allowed to purchase their house. The new tenant purchase scheme provides that there must be a 50% income coming into the household. Old age pensioners who have just retired do not qualify and are not allowed to buy their house, even though they might have come into a certain amount of money or they might have been made redundant. People who inherit money or who perhaps win money are not allowed to purchase their house. Once again, the new tenant purchase scheme only suits very few. Who drafts these schemes? It just does not make sense.

My colleague referred to child poverty and homelessness. In the past year in Carlow, we set up a soup kitchen; we called it St. Clare's Hospitality. With the summer approaching there will be more children and families attending, as the children are not in school. We are trying to keep these families fed. We also give food parcels to families most in need. I am ashamed to say that when St. Clare's Hospitality set up the soup kitchen over a year ago, we could not get any streamlined funding from any Department to fund it. There is a homelessness crisis and a housing crisis and we are setting up soup kitchens because people are hungry, but there is no funding from the Government. With the €200 million in funding and with all the Departments working together, the Minister must look after the poor and most vulnerable in the community. I seek answers to my questions, but I also seek results. I want funding to be allocated to these areas.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and wish him and his colleague, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, well. They face a real challenge. I welcome the motion tabled by Fianna Fáil. Fine Gael agrees with much of its content and, in fact, much of what it proposes is already under way.

I was formerly the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and appointed to office in 2014 in the middle of the crisis. Without pointing fingers or laying blame, the environment in which the Ministers are trying to meet this challenge must be acknowledged. People ask why this happened. The reason was obvious. We had a bankrupt state in which, unfortunately, the local authorities had abdicated their responsibility for building houses for over a decade. As a result of the economic crash, access to credit dried up both for builders and individuals seeking to build their own homes. In addition, repossessions began to take place. We see the obvious result with homelessness. It is a shame for the country. It is something on which we all must work together, irrespective of party politics. We are depending on local authorities, all political parties and society in general to respond to this challenge in a responsible way.

I commend the Ministers for the work they are undertaking. Many of the foundations were laid in the past few years. The previous Government, despite the fact that the State was bankrupt when it took office in 2011, committed over €4 billion to the social housing strategy; therefore, it is not a matter of throwing funding at the problem. I believe, as a result of my experience in the past two years, that it is about improving the efficiency of delivery of supply in both the public and private sectors.

There is a lot to be learned in this regard. We have systems in place in local authorities and the Department - I am being constructively critical - that are old and which were set up for a day that is long gone. The challenge is of such proportions that we need serious reform, not only of the local authorities and how they deliver houses but also of the Department. Some Senators have alluded to the fact that there are too many barriers or stages in the approvals process. The Minister has committed to undertaking a review of it, which is to be welcomed.

Another measure taken recently is similar to the devolved scheme for schools under which local authorities can apply to the Department for a sum of €2 million and it is then up to them, on receiving approval, to go ahead and build units with that amount of money. I ask the Minister to tell the House how many local authorities have come forward to take advantage of that scheme since it was announced a number of months ago. It is a quick, accessible way to address the housing crisis in many local authority areas and I would have thought that once the scheme was announced, local authorities would be breaking down the door of the Department to get projects up and running. Under the scheme, no further approval is required once initial approval is given by the Department. That is a welcome development and I urge all local authorities to take advantage of the scheme.

On homelessness, I agree with the content of the motion. It is unacceptable that there are young families and children residing in emergency accommodation. However, it is the reality in the current environment that building houses takes time because projects must go through the planning process, infrastructure must be put in place, tenders must be issued and construction must then take place. I note that there has been criticism, some of it deserved, of the last Government and its failure to deliver. However, I can say without fear or favour that funding, approvals and necessary mechanisms have been put in place to enable houses to be constructed. I understand almost 200 construction projects are under way. They were given the green light by the Department and will deliver houses as soon as possible. It is important that local authorities and the project managers therein accelerate and complete these projects.

I agree with the points made by Senators opposite about voids. Obviously, this was an issue that needed attention because much of the local authority housing stock was lying vacant or in a derelict state while people languished on housing lists. That is just not acceptable. Funding for local authorities was prioritised to enable them to refurbish voids as quickly as possible. The figures in this regard are available from the Department. Some local authorities are excellent in dealing with voids, but others are woeful. Some view their housing stock as an asset to be managed and when it is unused, they invest in it and turn around units as quickly as possible, but others leave houses empty for months, if not years. That is not good enough and those local authorities that do not come up to the mark should be held to account by councillors and Members of this House in order that those on housing lists can be better served.

I draw the Minister's attention to a number of issues. First, I believe we should prioritise the quick-wins, voids being the obvious one. Existing stock must be turned around quickly and put back into use as soon as possible. Urban regeneration is also very important because the required infrastructure is already in place in urban areas. While it is welcome that the €200 million fund has been put in place by the Government for critical infrastructure, I point to the many cities, towns and villages in which existing full serviced housing stock is lying derelict and vacant. We need to provide incentives to unlock the potential of these sites and get the owners to either sell or let them. That would increase footfall in the centre of towns and villages all over the country. That would be a quick-win solution and a cross-cutting departmental response will be required to make it happen. I know for a fact that the Department cannot do it on its own. It will need help from the Department of Finance and several others.

Part V obligations and the viability of construction are huge barriers to supply. Builders tell us that they are finding it very difficult to access credit and if they cannot do so, they cannot build. We can talk all we like in this House about the matter, but unless we can find sources of credit for builders, we will not see enough houses being built. The local authorities have been provided with funding and set on the path, but they must be held to account if they fail to deliver. In order to reduce the overhead costs associated with delivery, the last Government reduced the Part V obligations - from 20% to 10% - which exposed it to some criticism and it will be interesting to see how many housing units are provided under the new regime. Unfortunately, for a number of years a Fianna Fáil Government accepted cash from developers in lieu of housing units under the Part V arrangements. Had that not been the case, we would have 10,000 more social housing units in the system today. That measure was simply wrong and when I was in office, I removed that mechanism, with the result that developers are now obliged to provide social housing units under Part V, which is the way it should be.

During the boom years a lot of money was collected by the local authorities under Part V arrangements. That money was supposed to be ring-fenced for reinvestment in housing, whether by way of the maintenance of existing stock or through new builds, but it appears from the figures for voids and new builds that there was very little activity in that regard. I want to know what happened to the Part V money collected by every local authority. I suspect some have invested it in housing, but that others are sitting on it, even to this day. This matter should be examined very closely to determine the level of funding available under the Part V arrangements which can now be used to purchase sites and build new housing developments.

I wish the Minister well in his role, but there is no easy answer to this problem which requires a cross-departmental, cross-societal response. We all have a responsibility. It is not just about throwing money at the problem but also about finding efficient ways to deliver housing quickly. I urge the Minister to tell the local authorities to look again at towns and villages which contain derelict houses and vacant sites, in respect of some of which planning permission has been granted, instead of focusing on greenfield sites. There is a far more efficient way to deliver housing. I will certainly be putting my shoulder to the wheel in whatever way I can to assist the Minister and every other Senator will do the same. This is a national problem that crosses politics and political parties and it behoves us all to respond in a responsible way.

I congratulate the Leas-Chathaoirleach on his elevation today to his distinguished position.

It is an indication of the relevance of Seanad Éireann that on our first real working day we confront one of the major social issues facing the country. I very much welcome the return of Senator Paudie Coffey to the House following his ministerial experience. He has just given a commanding performance, which was really splendid, as was the introduction of the two Fianna Fáil Senators. I note that Senator Paudie Coffey said Fine Gael agreed with most of the motion. I am not sure, therefore, if they will call a vote. Will there be one?

We may not call one.

That would be very good-----

I think we will reach agreement on this issue.

It would be good if we could reach agreement because it would be good if the entire Seanad could support a motion on behalf of people who are at the cutting edge of poverty, misery and deprivation. I urge those involved, the Whips and others, to get together to see if we can negotiate an arrangement whereby we will not have a vote on this matter.

There really is a homelessness crisis. I have just looked at the figures for those who have accessed homeless services in Dublin in the past two years. In 2014 the figure was 2,306. It has almost doubled to 3,777 this year. That gives real cause for worry - the constant incremental increase. We also know that in 2014 there were 20,000 people on the housing list in the Dublin City Council area. I assume there are considerably more than on it now.

I wish to talk a little about the banks. We have had banks putting people out on the side of the road. It is an increasing phenomenon and the Government appeared to endorse the policy. I remind the banks that they were rescued with money from the purses of the ordinary, small people of this country. It was our money, but now they are turning around and putting people out of their houses. It is disgraceful.

One of the most fundamental rights in any decent democratic society is the right to housing, shelter and a home. We now see NAMA and others selling off mortgage portfolios to vulture funds.

These are individuals who will be utterly callous. They just kick people out on the side of the street. Why was it not found possible to offer those mortgages to their original proprietors at the discount at which they were sold to the vulture funds? That would have kept people in their homes and would have been the decent thing to do. Now we have people in hotels. That might sound very grand - as though it would be nice to be in a hotel. I do not think it is very nice. They are stuck in unsuitable accommodation and very often told they cannot go in the front door but must go around to the tradesman's entrance at the back. They are second-class citizens. The children are not allowed to play and there are no facilities for them. If one looks at the number of people sleeping rough in Dublin, for example, on the night of 24 April this year there were 102 people counted as sleeping rough. There were certainly more than this. During the years the gender breakdown shows that between 84% and 91% of these are men, mostly young men. Behind this is a nexus of poverty.

We have seen in the past ten years the biggest transfer of money from the poor to the rich that I have ever experienced in my life. We have various definitions of poverty. We have the consistent poverty rates. "Consistent poverty" describes the situation of people whose income is below the poverty threshold and cannot afford at least two of 11 staple items, to which I will come back. The at-risk-of-poverty threshold is an income of €10,926. That is about the level of the contributory old age pension. There are 11 deprivation indicators: two pairs of strong shoes - anybody could see it is real poverty if one is not able to afford a pair of weatherproof shoes - a warm, waterproof overcoat; buying new, not second-hand, clothes; eating meat, chicken, fish or a vegetarian equivalent every second day; having a roast joint or its equivalent once a week; having to go without heating in the last year through lack of money; keeping the home adequately warm; buying presents for family or friends at least once a year; replacing any worn-out furniture; having family or friends for a drink or a meal once a month; and having had a morning, afternoon or evening out in the last fortnight for entertainment. These are the qualities that give people a human life. It provides not just for decent clothing, shelter and food but also for a degree of human dignity in terms of provision for entertainment. The percentage of Irish people living in consistent poverty in 2014 was 8%. The figure had nearly doubled from 4.2% in 2008. The consistent poverty rate for the unemployed is 22.6%, up from 9.7%; therefore, it has more than doubled in those four or five years. Children remain the most vulnerable age group, with 11.2% living in consistent poverty. It is particularly marked in single-parent households.

The percentage of people who are at risk of poverty was 14.1% in 2013, the seventh lowest in the European Union. It is very easy to trick around with these figures and say we are doing pretty well because the figure is the seventh lowest in the European Union. Being at risk of poverty means living on an income below 60% of median income. If one looks behind these figures and takes away the social welfare payments and various things like that, Ireland's position falls: the actual at-risk rate in this country without social welfare supports would be a staggering 49.8%. In other words, without the support of social welfare, nearly half the people of the country would be at risk of poverty. That is a salutary figure that ought to bring us up short. Consistent poverty rates have increased during the years because of the financial difficulties this country found itself in. In 2014 it was estimated that just 370,000 people were in this category. This is in a society in which there is a very high cost of living. Prices in the Republic were 22.3% above the European average in 2014, making the State the joint third most expensive place in the European Union and we have these levels of poverty.

In the midst of this, we have 140,000 childrenat risk of poverty. That puts in context all the bleating about treating all the children of the nation equally. Fergus Finlay, the chief executive of Barnardos, who is well known to this House has said the child poverty rate is "a national scandal". He said:

We would expect to have seen the beginnings of a reduction in child poverty rates in 2014 [...] However one in nine children still live in consistent poverty and more than a third of children experience deprivation, while the number of children at risk of poverty has not improved since 2010. This puts paid to the rhetoric that ‘a rising tide will lift all boats’ [...] two children in every classroom are living without access to basic necessities through no fault of their own or their parents. They are going without warm winter clothing, living in substandard housing and even going hungry.

In what condition are those children to absorb the lessons of education?

I pay tribute to the sponsors of the motion. It is a very good one and I hope agreement can be reached on it in order that Seanad Éireann will put its muscle, back and united effort behind those Ministers who are seeking to address this most urgent problem.

I wish the Leas-Chathaoirleach well in his role. It is great to be back in the Seanad. I was here from 2002 to 2007.

I remember it well.

It is a great elevation from the Dáil.

Unfortunately, we do not have to walk too far from the gates of Leinster House to see the extent of the homelessness crisis. Doorstep after doorstep in Dublin provides unacceptable accommodation for people who are living at the margins of society. This worthwhile motion is very welcome. We can work together across all parties to try to sort out the homelessness crisis. Outside the large cities, homelessness may not be as visible, but it is no less a challenge for those who want their own homes but have to rely on the couches or floors of family and friends or emergency accommodation. Much human despair is unfolding every day for families. We have also heard worrying reports of homeless children being accommodated on blow-up beds in adult hostels. How did it come to this?

Ten years ago we had housing estates being built. When I was a member of the local authority, I felt apartments and housing were of a great standard. We felt we had addressed the housing crisis, although there was no crisis then. One of the reasons is that there were many buy-to-let investors who were involved in business and decided they would buy apartments to let. I was probably one of them. However, many of them have now lost their properties because of the downturn. I see many buildings for sale that are vacant for three or four years because the owners are still trying to deal with the banks. That is no good for the homeless who want a place to live. There is an issue with many of the banks which have been very slow in having properties sold to local authorities to ensure people can move into them.

We talk about ghost estates and think of estates that were built in the past five or ten years.

To me, the new ghost estates in my own town are in places such as Marian Road - so-called because it was built in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of the people from such areas which I would describe as having quite good housing stock moved to newer estates. The ghost estates are the local authority estates that were allowed to deteriorate when most of the families moved out. The local authorities should have done much more work to address this issue. It is very good-quality accommodation, as we are all aware from canvassing. We go into the old traditional estates that I canvassed 16 years ago and there is nobody living in them now. They were quite good houses. There is a need for joined-up thinking and I know that the Minister will do this. That is where a lot of the work is being done. I am pleased that the Dáil agreed to establish a special Committee on Housing and Homelessness to review the implications of the problem of housing and homelessness and make recommendations. These recommendations are logical.

On the main street in Boyle, Bridge Street, where 150 people grew up 40 years ago, I think my mother is the only person living over a shop. There is high-quality accommodation in every town and village. I speak of a small area in County Roscommon; it is not the same as in Dublin. Even around Dublin, over shops, there is high-quality accommodation. There is a need for some incentive to encourage people to live over shops or in towns and villages again. We cannot have a situation akin to that in the United States where there was a quick exodus to the suburbs. The suburbs were nice and they were great, but there is a need to reinvent the towns. As a person who grew up over a shop - we did not even have a back door - I was very happy and still live there. Could one raise a family there? It may not be acceptable today, but years ago many families were raised over shops. The fact is that there are people who are homeless and we need to do something about it.

The scale of the housing construction challenge is huge. Recently, local authorities have estimated that more than €1 billion per year is needed in the next five years to address the social housing shortage across the country. A capital funding commitment is a major challenge, but it is not about money; it is about joined-up thinking such as demonstrated in the special Committee on Housing and Homelessness. In this Chamber we can work together to try to ensure we sort out this issue.

The banks have much to answer for because they have been slow to wash out many of the properties that should be opened up immediately for housing. I have seen apartments empty for four or five years. On the question of allowing somebody in for nothing, the local authorities have been slow to address the matter.

On the need for emergency measures to tackle the crisis, much more needs to be done. There is a need to build approximately 30,000 to 35,000 houses to make up for the lack of building during the past five years. It is an issue of which we lost sight and it crept up. It was a perfect storm, although that is no good to the people who are living on sofas or in hotel rooms. As a Government, I do not believe we will oppose the motion. I hope this is the new politics - the cross-party politics where we can accept motions and work together to try to alleviate the problem of homelessness. In two years time we will have another issue, but I hope it will not be homelessness.

I commend Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee for bringing forward the motion which I support.

I move amendment No. 1:

After "calls for:" to insert:

"- the Government to declare a state of emergency to recognise the scale of the housing crisis and to:

- double investment in social housing;

- fast track the approval, procurement and tendering process for local authorities;

- introduce rent certainty, linking rent with the consumer price index;

- legislate for a moratorium on home repossessions until adequate measures to deal with mortgage distress are enacted; and

- introduce emergency legislation to give tenants in private rental properties greater protections when properties are bought by vulture funds."

Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach as ucht a cheapacháin. Tá súil agam go n-éireoidh sé sin leis.

Having heard so much about new politics and seeing everyone so happy-clappy, I hope we will receive full support for the amendment. It is unbelievable to have to listen to the two sides of the one coin singing the same tune for the first time in a long time. The substantive motion has very little that could cause offence. Of course, Fine Gael will support it; it has no choice, as it does not have the numbers to oppose it. There is an element of the brass neck in Fianna Fáil icoming forward with such a motion today, when it was the architect of the disastrous situation in which we find the housing sector. For five years in government, Fine Gael continued the broken policies. To say it had not realised there was an issue or that it had crept up on us is astounding coming from a Fine Gael Member because we certainly raised the issues involved time after time in the Houses.

We have tabled an amendment because the motion simply does not go far enough. We are calling on the Government to declare a state of emergency, as it is more than a crisis. We are asking it to declare a state of emergency, admit how bad the issue is and recognise the scale of the housing crisis. We are calling on it to double investment in social housing, to fast track the approval, procurement and tendering process for local authorities, to introduce rent certainty, linking rent with the consumer price index, to legislate for a moratorium on home repossessions until adequate measures to deal with mortgage distress are enacted and to introduce emergency legislation to give tenants in private rental properties greater protections when properties are bought by vulture funds. We hope there will not be a vote because we hope all Members will accept the amendment, but we will certainly push it to a vote.

At the latest count by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, there were almost 6,000 homeless people in Ireland, including 2,000 children. The most recent figures for the number of homeless children in Dublin show that there were 1,723 in 839 families. The recent Housing Agency report for the Government put the number of vacant homes across the State as high as 230,000 and included a vacant home tax among its recommendations. Sinn Féin calls on the Minister to take action immediately because there may be as many as 230,000 vacant homes across the State. I am informed that in Dublin there are 255 vacant units. There is no point in talking about the issue; these have to be turned into homes for families.

There are up 130,000 households on local authority housing waiting lists, including well over 10,000 in Galway. Rents and house prices are spiralling out of control. It is simply not good enough for the Government to sit on its hands and do nothing about vacant properties when so many families are in severe housing need. We have been told repeatedly by the Government that the central cause of the housing crisis is an undersupply of housing, particularly private housing, yet the Housing Agency has prepared a report for the Government which includes a mention of empty houses. This does not include holiday homes. We want to see these empty houses turned into homes for families.

There has been a little talk about repossessions. Last month I decided to go to the repossessions court in Galway to see it with my own two eyes. What is going on there is an absolute disgrace. I had a misconception that many of the people in the repossessions court had totally defaulted on their mortgages, but the opposite is the truth. In many cases, banks and vulture capitalists are chasing people for a couple of thousand euro. These are people who are maintaining a certain level of payment - a substantial amount, in many cases - and who have paid hundreds of thousands of euro towards their mortgages over a number of years. It is not the case, therefore, that those in the repossessions courts are total and utter defaulters who do not want to pay their debts back. There are vulture funds in a land grab to take the houses from people who have very little debt left to repay. It is an absolute scandal. Even the set-up of the courts is an absolute scandal. Cases are not heard by a judge. The court in Galway is tiny. I counted 21 seats, nine of which were taken up by solicitors and barristers. The others were taken up by people from NGOs and agencies supporting people in distress. Most of the people who had hearings to attend could not get into the courtroom. They had to queue in the corridor and down the stairs in Galway courthouse, which is an absolute disgrace. That issue needs to be addressed. They could not receive a proper hearing.

Sinn Féin calls for legislation to give tenants rent certainty.

I again put it to Fianna Fáil that if it is so serious about this crisis, it should support the Bill going through the Dáil today. I say this to all others present also.

Rents across the State continue to rise as the watered down rent certainty measures introduced last year by the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, failed to make any dent in rental prices. I believe in Galway the highest increases in rents were witnessed in the past quarter and numerous reports have illustrated this fact. The recent quarterly rental report showed an increase in the average rent nationwide of 9.3% in the year to March 2016, with average rents now at a rate of more than €1,000 per month. In Dublin the report showed rental inflation for the year to March at 8.8% and that it cost an average of €1,663 per month to rent in parts of the city. It also demonstrated that nationally, rents were 8.6% higher in the first three months of 2016 than in the same period last year. There is definitely a perfect storm in Galway in this regard because it has a huge student population, as well as a number of reasonably affluent companies. Consequently, people who come to work for these companies are taking up a lot of the better private accommodation. In addition, in Galway there are rent caps that do not recognise the cost of rented houses in the rental market and a new phenomenon has emerged. When I attended the briefing held yesterday by the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, I raised the issue of the hidden homeless because I wished to ascertain what was the society's experience in this regard. There is a whole cohort of people who are couch-surfing. I am aware of many single parents, in particular, who are staying with their children in the homes of friends or family, including sisters or brothers. While some might state they are lucky to have relatives to look after them - they are - the stress this puts on them is unbelievable. They have the right to their own home and a right to proper accommodation and their own space. It is causing mental health issues and great stress and putting huge pressure on all the families involved. This issue of hidden homeless also must be addressed.

I also visited the refuge for homeless women in Galway recently, Osterley Lodge, where the waiting list is simply incredible. Accommodation is not available for women who may be in abusive situations, particularly due to domestic violence. They have absolutely nowhere to go and service providers such as COPE Galway simply cannot control what is going on. It is time for Senators to put their money where their mouths are. If this is the new politics, Sinn Féin has tabled a progressive amendment to thie motion. If Fianna Fáil wishes to prove it really is reinventing itself, this is the time to show Members what it intends to do. One must remember that Fianna Fáil has the control, in that it holds the balance of power. Its Members can force through any of these measures because Fine Gael must come on board to get the majority to put through any measure. I am calling on and putting it up to Fianna Fáil Members to make sure these measures in the amendment are included, after which Members together will push collectively the Government to deliver on the promises I hope all Members will make in the Seanad this evening.

I second the amendment and will divide my few words into two parts. I, first, wish to talk about child poverty. Members are aware that poverty and the hardship caused by poverty and social exclusion are not new phenomena. They are aware that in 2010, under the Fianna Fáil-led Government, more than 200,000 children lived in households experiencing poverty. Moreover, the number of children at risk of poverty rose by more than 35,000 in the three years between 2007 and 2010. One major disservice and wrong done by Fianna Fáil in 2008 was to get rid of the Combat Poverty Agency. It was the only agency dedicated to addressing poverty and because the Government did not like what it had to say - it was saying exactly what Members are saying in the Chamber today - it axed the agency. Had the Combat Poverty Agency been listened to at the time, an awful lot would have been learned because it had the information and evidence available for Members to formulate policies that would have prevented the crisis we face today.

Child poverty cannot be addressed in isolation, but must be considered within the wider issues of poverty and all households must be lifted out of poverty by Government policies and joined-up thinking. I am not simply talking about properly-paid employment but about essential public services such as access to health services, equal access to education and a level playing field. In particular, I refer to a level playing field for children who are living in homes that are not conducive to their full participation in either the education system or society because of what they are going through. As a nation, we have failed to address poverty and social exclusion. Even when the country was awash with money, we gave more to the rich and robbed the poor. The protection of the golden circle was more important than keeping open community development projects, homework clubs or projects that addressed social exclusion and addiction or which helped poor mental health and many other social issues. Eight successive cuts were imposed on lone parents alone and the price now is being paid for the failure of successive Governments to invest in families and communities. Many of the young people who now are shooting and being shot all over this city and in other cities were children who grew up in communities that were crying out for investment and attention and we have failed them. As Senator David Norris observed, a rising tide does not lift all boats and targeted comprehensive interventions are needed to tackle the injustice of poverty in all its forms.

In respect of housing specifically, it is scandalous that thousands of units are left vacant by local authorities. However, from my time as a member of Mayo County Council, I am aware that local authorities are starved of resources and when they do get some money, the manner in which it can be spent is highly restrictive. I ask the Minister of State to address this point. Local authorities must have autonomy on where money can be spent and how it can best be used, rather than it being purely prescriptive because local authorities and the Government are among the most reckless landlords in the State. I know of people who have been renting council houses for 30 years and more but who are without central heating or insulation and whose windows and doors have not been replaced throughout that time. However, they are being asked to pay rent and live in these conditions, which is not right. Even though money was available last year, which I welcome, this money cannot be spent on the refurbishment of the local authority stock or if it can, the local authorities certainly are unaware of this. Consequently, I call for immediate investment into the existing local authority stock.

As the Sinn Féin amendment states, an emergency response is needed. Local authorities must be able to buy private houses, as well as those that are available through the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. The procurement process is holding everything up and the Government is aware it can announce however many millions of euro for housing in the next week or ten days in the full knowledge that this money cannot be spent because of the restrictions and delays in procurement. There is another issue also in that because of the moratorium, there is not a sufficient number of housing officers within local authorities to be able to prepare the procurement papers and everything that must be done to fast-track the process. Local authorities must be allowed to have a response and the response by the local authority in County Mayo may be different from the response needed in Dublin. Many vacant private units in County Mayo could be brought up within weeks and used as social housing and I suggest this be done rather than building new homes. In addition, this obviously would serve both rural and urban regeneration, whereby families would then be living in these communities, which is badly needed to keep open schools, post offices and everything else in rural areas.

I wish to comment on the housing assistance payment because rental limits are forcing families to break the law by lying about rent.

The Minister says time and again that there is flexibility around rent limits and what can be paid in different areas. I categorically refute this. Mayo County Council is not one of the local authorities given the flexibility to do this; therefore, if a tenant needs a home, he or she must say he or she is paying a certain amount in rent and go with that in the fear that he or she may be found out and have to pay back all the money to the Department of Social Protection.

I will finish with the issue of repossessions because I attended the court in Castlebar last Monday. Like Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, I saw how families were being put out of their homes. One incident backed up what Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh said. The housing debt was €66,000. Last January somebody offered to pay €50,000 on behalf of the family and the bank refused to take it. Where is the write-down and the discretion? Where is the cut-off for families after all we have done for the banks and how the banks have been supported? There is a major loss of revenue to the Government in respect of deals given to vulture funds. It is not only the haircuts; it is the loss of revenue where these vulture funds which are based abroad do not have pay VAT. There is drainage from the State. That money could be put towards housing.

The Minister might consider training for housing officers on the dynamics of domestic violence because very many of them do not understand these dynamics. They need to remove the barriers in order that it is easier for women and children living in horrific conditions to escape from violent homes. I ask the Minister to support the amendment because while I have no problem with the Fianna Fáil motion, the amendment is more comprehensive in respect of what we are trying to address.

I welcome this debate. It is important that we look at where we are in the provision of housing. Yes, we have problems and there are many measures that could be taken immediately to solve some of them. I will give the Minister a simple example that relates to downsizing. Quite a number of my constituents who occupy three or four-bedroom houses have told me that they have been contacting their local authority for four, five or, in some cases, eight years looking to move to a one or two-bedroom unit that would be more suitable because they have moved on in years and need to be near shops and services. There are suitable units available for them, but they find there is no response from the local authorities. They are occupying three or four-bedroom houses that would be suitable for families. I am astonished. If one goes to other areas, be they in the private or public sector, there is a much faster response in respect of dealing with issues. This is one area where local authorities could react immediately. I know of at least six houses in one local authority area that would be very suitable for families.

I do not understand why it can take up to two years to bring a vacant house back into use. I am talking about houses that are handed back after a person has died. There seems to be a huge delay. I understand some local authorities will send a different person to look at the house and one could find at least six to seven people going out to look at a house, regardless of whether it is the plumber, the electrician or the person who will look at the windows. Why can local authorities not set up a team that would go out on the same day and carry out an assessment of what needs to be done? I know of one local authority where the keys are handed back to the housing department, the housing department then sends them down to the electrician or plumber to go out, it takes another six weeks for the keys to come back to the housing department, they are then sent to another person to go and look at the house and it takes another six weeks. It seems to go on and on. Surely in this day and age we could co-ordinate house inspections and how this matter can be managed to ensure the house is brought back into use at a very early stage. Somebody contacted me last week who surrendered their house to a local authority because they had entered a new relationship and moved in with their new partner in another area of the city. Unfortunately, the relationship did not work out and the person contacted me to find out whether they could move back into their old local authority house. I told them that I did not think the house would be vacant only to be told that it was and that all the shutters were still up 18 months later. This raises very serious questions. At a time when we badly need houses, we are not responding in time.

Some of my colleagues have raised the issue of how we manage finances. We are paying out money in social welfare, rightly so, because we need to give support to people, regardless of whether they are retired or in receipt of various allowances such as disability allowance. However, we are paying out €20 billion per annum, which works out at €57 million per day. I do not like the impression that is created that the State is not giving the necessary support. Yes, there are areas where not all of the supports available cater for the needs of some people, but it is about ensuring those who fall between two stools because they do not qualify for various supports are identified and dealt with. Likewise, we must ensure housing support is provided for those who require it.

When one looks back over the past 20 years, a scheme once operated under which if someone put money on deposit, another 25% was added to it over a period at a time when we were getting a huge amount of money in from housing. If one looks back to before 2008, it is sad to see how little of the money that was coming in between PRSI paid in respect of people working for building contractors, VAT paid by building contractors, capital gains tax and stamp duty was used at the time to provide local authority housing when we needed it. It is always difficult to say we will rely totally on the private sector because that is exactly what happened. It was fine relying on the private sector when there was an oversupply of housing, but that suddenly changed. When the Government changed in 2011, there was an oversupply of housing, but that has changed in the past two years.

We also need to look at structures relating to housing, for example, how letting in the private sector is short term. In other European countries one can get a 20-year lease and the same is true if one is in the commercial sector. Someone renting a shop unit or office can get a 20-year lease with five-year rent reviews. They are then obliged to fit out their own offices in order that they are not relying on the landlord. We need to look at arrangements in other European countries for those who cannot afford to buy a house but who want certainty and permanency. They are able to save some money and invest in a property. In Germany a person renting a property carries out all the internal work in a property such as putting in a fitted kitchen, bathroom, curtains and flooring, but he or she pays a very low rent for 20 years; therefore, he or she has certainty and security of tenure.

He or she also has far lower costs in terms of wear and tear compared to our system. We need to examine new structures such as that. In order to do so, the necessary legislation must be in place. If we want to make any change in housing policy, we have to provide certainty for people who are renting in the private sector and that is what we need to focus on. We need to develop a structure very quickly.

I wish to share time with Senators Lynn Ruane and Collette Kelleher.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I very much welcome the motion and thank Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee for proposing it. There are some very positive measures we would welcome. We welcome that one of the first debates in the House highlights and focuses on such a vital, important and crucial issue. The motion and supplementary amendments that have been proposed by Sinn Féin and Fianna Fáil offer very constructive and positive measures. Many others and I in our group would be very interested in driving forward an all-party consensus and in moving forward together in terms of highlighting these issues. That is something we can do constructively.

I wish to highlight a number of issues. The figures for deprivation in Ireland are shocking. Deprivation involves not just poverty in terms of income but a lack of any form of safety net, security or capital reserve. Deprivation means the lack of means to purchase the basic necessities of life. That puts into very stark contrast those who want to manage housing in terms of day-to-day spending. I welcome the specific acknowledgement of the very shocking deprivation levels affecting lone parents in Ireland. One-parent families are a cause of concern in terms of the deprivation levels experienced.

I refer to housing and homelessness. While it is important that we highlight the large numbers of people on housing waiting lists, we must also be aware of the large number of hidden homeless. Previous speakers focused on those who were staying in unsafe and unsuitable accommodation, particularly people who were dealing with issues such as domestic violence, because of a lack of appropriate housing and the fear of entering what is now seen to be a long and desperate journey to obtain housing or alternative accommodation which may involve bringing children into unsuitable premises.

In addition to some of the measures mentioned which focus largely on emergency measures and initial action, I hope the House may also address the crucial medium-term housing issues which must be considered. Another Senator spoke about leasing. An over-reliance on the use of leases at local level which results in a block on the opportunity for local authorities to purchase sustainable housing means that children who are enrolled in schools have no guarantee that in three or five years time a landlord will not move them out of their current accommodation. A short-term solution offering five or ten-year leases would leave many children disturbed in the middle of their schooling. Such an approach would affect jobs, etc., and would require families to reroute and reorient themselves after a period of homelessness. Such families will again be thrown into vulnerable circumstances. We have seen this happen on a case by case basis throughout the country. In terms of medium-term measures, I urge the State to build or buy rather than lease housing units.

Another medium-term danger is the capital gains tax waiver which was in place in 2013 and 2014. In effect, it was an invitation to vulture funds to enter Ireland. We must address the concerns of those who are renting properties from vulture funds. We have seen the need for such people to be given urgent protection. In three or four years time, when the vulture funds are able to withdraw from Ireland without paying tax thanks to the seven-year condition that was applied to their purchases, we may face a further crisis.

Another speaker said that this matter was not about money. It is about money. We need to say we value direct investment in housing and are willing to put it on the books - it does not need to be off-balance sheet. A cost-benefit analysis of the recent reduction in inheritance tax might be a more worthy exercise than considering the comparable cost and benefit of investing in secure homes for families across Ireland in the long term. I urge us to move past the no-cost approach to a more dynamic long-term investment approach.

A couple of Senators referred to the hidden homeless. Last year I was with a young man in hospital when he died. We tried to encourage him to undergo treatment for cirrhosis of the liver. The man was aged in his early 30s and lived in a hostel. He chose to die in a hospital bed rather than have to live on the streets again. His fear was that if he went into treatment he would lose his place in a hostel and instead chose to die. I assured him that I would work with him until we secured accommodation for him in order to ensure he could receive treatment. His view was that it did not matter because he was part of the forgotten homeless. That experience stayed with me. It is part of the new wave of homelessness that is happening and that affects families and local authorities. Another cohort of homelessness comprises those with high levels of need.

In the hostels I have worked in there are men who require nursing home care. The staff in hostels are not nurses, but they act as medical professionals. The current levels of primary care and safety nets for homeless people are increasing their life expectancy. Investment is not being provided to ensure hostels keep up with the men and women - mostly men - who are reaching an age at which they should be in nursing homes. Some of them have high levels of care needs, but they are being cared for by project workers who are not suitably qualified. They are not being allowed to die with dignity. The hostels are of a low standard. Street drinkers live in them. Even when people die in hostels, they do not do so in the comfort of a bed where they should be at their age.

I recently visited Brú Aimsir hostel to carry out a survey. It is welcome that the process will continue and the hostel will increase to full capacity. I call on the Minister and anyone else who is dealing with the homelessness issue not to forget that a cohort of homeless people are not acknowledged in any legislation. Council housing is not appropriate for such persons. Rather, they need supportive and traditional housing with structures that allow those with high levels of needs to be cared for.

Senator Collette Kelleher has about ten seconds.

I will be very brief.

My experience of sharing time is that nobody ever keeps to his or her time, which has a knock-on effect.

I am happy to share two minutes of my time.

Okay. The Minister of State wants to speak before Senator Kevin Humphreys.

I will be brief.

It is clear from the CSO figures that children have borne the brunt of the mistakes we, as a nation and as politicians, have made. We now have an opportunity to reverse this and need to start with the 2,000 children who are homeless. I ask the Minister of State to enable us to be the eyes and ears of and watchdog for those 2,000 children. The Combat Poverty Agency is no longer in existence, but the Minister of State's Department has the ability to provide us with the monitoring information required. There are probably more than 2,000 children who are homeless.

We should be able to see what progress is being made on behalf of those 2,000 children to remove them from the unsuitable accommodation in which they currently live. It is robbing children of their here and now, childhood and future. It is wasting money which is being spent on hotels and hostels and the money that will be spent on mental health services for those children in the future. These are the very people who could end up in homeless hostels further down the line. There is going to be a cost to all this, but irrespective of the cost we are talking about human beings and lives. I would like the Minister of State to come back to us regularly to monitor the information about those 2,000 children and see if progress is being made. I do not care about the difficulties in local authorities or in his Departments. We need to be overcoming them and getting on with it.

On a point of order, I appreciate that this is the first Private Members' time of the new Seanad, but this is a Fianna Fáil motion. We are one and a half hours into the discussion, yet we have only had the proposer and the seconder of the motion. There are others who wish to speak and latitude should be given-----

Unfortunately, the position since the previous Seanad is that instead of having four groups, we now have six and that is creating a problem. It is something that will have to be resolved. I can see where the Senator is coming from, but the Minister wishes to speak now and the Senator had 15 minutes in which to speak.

I remind Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh that democracy is when we have twice the speaking time he does because we have twice the number of Members.

We did not get much of it for the past five years.

I am merely pointing out, on behalf of my party, that we are not satisfied.

The Senator has made his point. We are wasting time and the clock is ticking.

It might help if I was as brief as possible because in many ways this is groundhog day. I was elected to Dublin City Council in 1999. One of the very early arguments we had was about housing in the city and the provision of social housing, in particular. At that stage the city management, to a great extent, had made the decision, with many other local authorities, to move away from the social housing model and allow the private sector to provide social housing, that is, rented, and that the voluntary housing groups would move to provide that housing. I found that situation unsatisfactory at the time and argued wholeheartedly against it. Unfortunately, I won the argument and lost the war because in principle it was accepted that local authorities would stay involved in the provision of social housing but they never furthered its implementation.

Part V has been discussed in the House on many occasions. It was a very progressive idea that 20% of housing built would be affordable and social housing. That idea came from public representatives and community groups in the north and south docklands in Dublin city. In fairness, we had a very enlightened Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government at the time, former Deputy Noel Dempsey, who took the idea on board and legislated for it. If that legislation had stayed as intended right through the boom years when we saw massive building in the city, we would have reached that figure of 20% for social and affordable housing. Unfortunately, the then Minister was not there long enough to see it grow and flourish and the succeeding Minister, former Deputy Martin Cullen, changed the legislation which allowed the huge building spree within the city without provision for social housing. He granted exemptions in the planning permissions granted compared with those provided for by the preceding Minister.

It is great to have this debate and discussion and there are many elements of the Sinn Féin amendment which I would support, especially that relating to the consumer. Linking rents with the consumer price index is one of the things for which we fought within the Government, but, unfortunately, we were not able to deliver. I commend Sinn Féin for taking it on board.

I hope that when the Minister returns with his response, he may be able to update us on the provision of the 500 modular housing units. It is very important that they be delivered on time in order that people can start moving from the unsatisfactory situation where they are living in hotel rooms.

I put it to the Minister of State that there are many dangers facing us. In fairness, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, met councillors from Dublin City Council on Monday night to listen to their concerns about housing issues in Dublin. It is very important that the Minister visit as many local authorities as possible. Councillors are working on the ground; they have solutions that can be implemented and can often be pragmatic. However, we must also watch out for new dangers. Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn and Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan, chairpersons of the city council's strategic policy committee on housing, are highlighting issues that affect not just Dublin but also other European capital cities, as well as American cities. There is a phenomenon of renting homes, for example, through Airbnb and other such companies. There are approximately 1,700 units for rent in Dublin. I am concentrating on Dublin in referring to this issue because while the issue is also very urgent in Cork, County Mayo and other counties and cities, the major crisis in homelessness is in Dublin. There are 1,700 units advertised between various websites, from apartments to homes for rent, and I believe this is a high percentage of the rental units available to families. These units can make a lot more money if the Airbnb model is followed. One two-bedroom apartment in the centre of Dublin city was able to make €79,000 per annum. Why would a landlord who owns a one or two-bedroom apartment not place that unit on one of the Internet rental sites? There may be a few extra service and management charges, but the profits to be made in renting to tourists are vastly greater than in renting to families who live here. We need to keep a eye on that issue.

Seattle in Washington state has already moved to bring forward legislation; the matter is being reviewed in San Francisco, while Amsterdam has brought forward legislation. There is a major housing crisis in Berlin which is moving very quickly to bring in controls and legislation for the tourism rental market. When there is such a scarcity of units in the capital city, we have to be aware that this phenomenon could have a negative effect, even though there are many positives such as increasing accommodation for tourists and investment. However, while we are experiencing a particular danger, we need to be acutely aware of the issue. We cannot afford to lose 1,700 units from the market in such a very fast-moving sector.

During the formation of the Government and the negotiations between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, one of the matters on which there was agreement was that rent supplement would be increased by 15%. I urge necessary caution with regard to that increase because the figures I have seen in the Department show that a 15% increase in rent supplement would cost approximately €56 million and generate slightly in excess of 100 units. Most of that money would go straight to landlords. It would be better spent in providing built accommodation. The uplift from the current protocols is between 20% and 30%, or €220. I fear that the Minister's negotiating team from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil was misguided. Its intentions may have been correct to suggest additional funding for rent supplement, but the Minister must be very cautious that he is not just providing a subsidy for landlords instead of increasing the number of additional units. A blanket increase of 15% would just go to landlords and not create the additional units we all want to see. There is a real and urgent need to ensure the protocol continues. Reference was made to its operation in County Mayo up to two months ago; it is, in fact, in operation in that county and it is being accessed. The protocol is operational throughout the country, unless the position has changed since. I would be concerned if that was the case. I would be very grateful if the Minister of State updated us.

The Minister of State has a maximum of 15 minutes. The time limits are an issue that will probably be resolved at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. What is happening under the new arrangement is that two thirds of the Members of the Seanad have 50% of speaking time. That cannot stand and something will have to be done about it. The matter will have to be resolved by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I cannot resolve it. It is a pressure point.

For the past five years the mover of a motion had ten minutes and the seconder six minutes. Now the time limits are 12 minutes and eight minutes. Fewer Members are allowed to speak and because of the make-up of the Seanad, two thirds of the Members of the Seanad have 50% of speaking time. This issue will have to be addressed either by extending the time allowed or by some other means, but the current position is unfair. I did not create the system, but the pressure is being exerted on me. The matter will have to be brought up at the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

I appreciate what you are saying, a Chathaoirligh, that your hands are tied, but the hands of the Acting Leader of the House are not tied and he can allocate additional time. It is not acceptable for the Minister of State to take 15 minutes and for his contribution to mark the end of the debate. The two speakers on the proposing side are the only ones who have spoken for Fianna Fáil up to now.

I speak as Acting Leader, but I believe the Leader, Senator Jerry Buttimer, would probably agree that we should allow an additional 15 minutes for the debate.

It is a matter-----

The Leader indicated this morning that he would speak to the group leaders and Whips about setting up a business committee to address the very issues about which we are speaking in order that everybody would have an ample and fair opportunity to contribute. That is the Leader's intention.

On a point of protocol in the House, if there is to be an extension of time by ten or 15 minutes, the Leader will have to do it. I invite the Minister of State to proceed with his contribution.

With respect, the Acting Leader can extend the time allocated for the debate.

In case there is a problem, it would be safer for the Leader to come into the Chamber before the Minister of State concludes. If there is agreement, the time can be extended. I am open to suggestions, but the system is a pressure point. It is not my fault; it is the system that is wrong. We will try to deal with it as we move along. This is our first Private Members' debate and we are wasting time. I ask the Minister of State to proceed.

The Leader can run quite fast. Therefore, if someone can find him, he might get here before 6 p.m. to extend the time allocated. I am pleased that the allocation of time crisis can be resolved more quickly than the housing crisis. It is important that we have this debate and I thank Fianna Fáil for tabling the motion, with which we agree and accept. However, I do not agree with all of Sinn Féin's amendment.

It is important that this House have the chance to discuss the housing crisis and its effects on children and their families in emergency accommodation and solutions to the problem. I am conscious that the Seanad was not formed in time for Senators to be part of the committee that has been debating the issue in recent weeks and which will produce its much awaited report on Friday that will feed into the action plan for housing. In addition to this debate, perhaps the Seanad might find a mechanism to discuss the issue further before we finalise the action plan for housing. As I said this morning when I spoke at a conference, the only way to resolve the housing crisis is by all of us working together and coming up with ideas. We might not agree with all of the ideas expressed, but we need to put all of them on the table, talk through them and pick out the best. That is what we will do with the action plan for housing which will be published in July. It will set out our stall for what we hope to do in the next six months, 12 months and two years to tackle the emergency and bring about the changes we need to make to fast-track planning and social housing provision. The Seanad might find more time to debate the issue. I will meet anybody who has ideas and solutions to tackle the issue and talk through them as best I can. I was involved in the Action Plan for Jobs and the success of that plan was based on stakeholder engagement and everyone having a chance to bring forward actions and following through with implementation. The same logic will work in the case of housing if we all work together, step by step and action by action, to implement the changes we need to make to solve the problem.

Many of the problems stem from the lack of housing, to which reference was made by various speakers. One speaker referred to the need to zone more land. I accept that might be required in some areas, but the country has the potential to develop 400,000 housing units on land which has already been zoned. In Dublin alone enough land has been zoned to provide 88,000 housing units and enough planning permissions have already been granted to build 25,000 units.

That is in Dublin, but it is important that the Minister of State take rural areas into account. They are always forgotten.

I said I accepted that point, but it is not a shortage of land on which to build that has created the problem but the lack of supply of houses.

We must find every way we can to fast-track the process by a combination of public and private spending. It is not just a question of social housing; we also need more private housing. There is a considerable under-supply of housing and that is what we must address. The housing action plan will do this. For those who are new to the House, we used the same process to address the jobs crisis through the creation of an Action Plan for Jobs. When it was first published in 2012, everyone laughed at it and said it could not possibly achieve what it set out to do. The target was to create 100,000 jobs. It exceeded the target and when the private sector is included, more than 135,000 jobs were created. I was nervous about the plan when it was first put together, but it did work; therefore, I have every confidence that a similar process and action plan for housing will address the problem with the lack of housing.

All debates such as the one we are having will feed into the process. Seanad Members did not get a chance to become part of the housing committee because the new Seanad had not been constituted at the time, but now they will have a chance to discuss the matter in the Seanad, other meetings and through the Department. We will engage with everyone and plenty of good ideas have been mooted today. I cannot answer all of the questions asked, but I will get the information Members need and we will work together on the issues involved. We will tease out all of the good ideas offered.

I told the House that the Leader could run fast and I invite him to conduct his business. The motion gives us an opportunity to outline the Government's commitment to robustly tackling the significant challenges faced. I pledge that housing provision is the number one priority for the Government. It is the first item on the agenda. We must address the issue as the current position is not acceptable. We will address the issue and fix it. As the Minister of State working with the senior Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, it is number one on our agenda. The Department is now called the Department for housing and planning and that is what we are about. That is what we will try to fix with the help of the ideas suggested by Members, with whom we will work closely.

We are preparing an action plan for housing that will be published in July at the latest. It should be ready before then. It will build on the considerable work already carried out and under way. It will also draw on the important work carried out by the special Committee on Housing and Homelessness which is due to submit its report to the Dáil shortly. I hope many of its recommendations will feed into the action plan. The plan will include actions to expedite and boost the supply of all types of housing, including social housing, rental accommodation, student accommodation and transient accommodation, to tackle the issue in the short term, medium term and long term. It will focus, in particular, on those experiencing most difficulty in accessing the housing and rental market. Many such persons are living in emergency accommodation, which is not acceptable. Emergency accommodation is not suitable in the long term and that is one issue we are trying to address.

Both the Minister, Deputy simon Coveney, and I have initiated early engagement with those who have been working in the housing and homelessness area for many years to discuss the broad approach to be taken in the action plan. The Minister is on record as describing it as an "emergency", particularly in urban centres. I agree with him. We must and will tackle the emergency. The housing of families and children in unsuitable emergency accommodation is not right. It is not sustainable and certainly not a solution. The Government is, therefore, firm in its determination to take action urgently. In Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures, the Government set out a child-specific poverty target to reduce the level of consistent child poverty by at least two thirds by 2020. It is clear that only by adopting a whole-of-government approach can we hope to address the serious challenges posed in meeting that target. My Department, for its part, is working with the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to deliver on the commitment that every child should be safe and protected from harm, with a place to call home. We can all agree that is a target we must achieve as quickly as we possibly can.

The fact of the matter is that the house building sector is struggling to get back on its feet. With the downturn in the economy, it came to a virtual standstill. That lasted for the best part of a decade both in private housing supply and also in the provision of local authority housing. We are trying to ramp up capacity again through the local authorities in order that they can have their own housing stock and not just lease or rent them. Their capacity to do this was completely and utterly removed and we must rebuild it as quickly as we possibly can. It has taken longer than we would have liked, but it is happening and we must expedite the process as quickly as possible.

There is also under capacity in the private sector which is not delivering either. When I addressed the conference this morning, I said everybody had to play his or her part to increase the amount of housing stock. We must build at least 25,000 houses a year. In the next couple of years we will probably need 30,000 houses a year. Last year 12,500 houses were built, more than half of which were one-off houses outside Dublin. They were no addition in solving the crisis in Dublin. The target we must reach is building at least 25,000 houses a year and we must reach that target as quickly as we possibly can. After we deal with the emergency in housing provision, we must have a sustainable construction sector that will always be in the range of 12% to 14% of GNP, not in excess of 26% which is where it was or at a figure of 6% where it stands today.

I addressed the issue of the availability of land for house building. Affordability must also be tackled. We must try to build houses at a price people can afford because there is no point in building houses such as some of the 4,000 under construction that are way out of the price range of most people and that will not help us to solve the problem.

If people are spending most of their income on mortgages, they have a lot less money to meet the many other demands of life. This affects the real economy and people's quality of life and their ability to raise families. It also puts many working families in more precarious financial positions and at risk of homelessness, something we cannot allow to continue. The housing crisis is, therefore, affecting every sector of Irish society and putting at risk our hard-won gains in terms of employment, recovery of competitiveness and the attractiveness of Ireland as a placein which to work, live and grow a business.

It is important to recognise that we have made a start in addressing the problem. A €3.8 billion social housing strategy has been put in place. The problem is not the non-availability of funding but our inability to spend that funding quick enough to address the crisis. While additional funding will be required into the future, for now money is being made available to address the problem. We are also reforming Part V to make delivery of social housing possible and viable, many of which changes Senator Paudie Coffey, when Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, was involved in making.

We are implementing a range of actions to tackle homelessness and putting in place rent certainty measures, thereby giving hard-pressed tenants greater stability pending an increased supply coming on-stream. We are lowering development contributions and putting in place a rebate scheme for housing at more affordable prices, from which Dublin and Cork will benefit. A vacant site levy is being introduced, although for legal reasons this cannot kick-in until 2019. However, the threat of its application will progress site development at a quicker pace. Revision of the departmental guidelines will also help in terms of the Department's work with NAMA and its plan to provide 20,000 new homes. These are all useful efforts to try to stimulate the housing market. The Government accepts that this is not enough and that it has not thus far helped to solve the problem. Simply providing money is not sufficient. We must drive the spend of that money, work with the local authorities and reform the planning system. The Part VIII system has been reformed, but it needs to be driven further with, perhaps, more changes required.

The local authorities need to be reformed.

They have been reformed. I am not here to argue with anybody. I accept that what has been done is not enough.

We will try to do a lot more.

Reference was made to the local authorities being allowed to operate a one-stage system. Such a system is now in place in respect of a spend of under €2 million in the development of 12 houses. We need to encourage councillors to utilise that process. If that system is not enough and needs to be tweaked, we will tweak it. The previous eight-stage planning process under Part VIII has been reduced to a four-stage process. Again, if it needs to be reduced further, we will look at that issue. These issues are being addressed through the housing action plan.

I could go on and set out many of the other targets we hope to achieve, but that would only take up more time. I am happy to conclude at this point and allow Senators to continue the debate. We are open to all ideas.

The Minister of State did not address the amendment.

If the Senator wishes me to do so, I will but I do not intend to repeat what was said last night.

What is wrong with it?

The amendment refers to rent certainty and calls for a doubling of housing provision. As I said, we are unable to spend the funding currently available quick enough. I am unable to accept the amendment. The Government has an issue with linking rent with the consumer price index. We addressed that issue last night. The Government does not believe that proposal would bring the solution Sinn Féin believes it would bring. We need to have landlords involved. Public housing will not be sufficient to address the problem; we also need private housing and public and private landlords. What is proposed in the Sinn Féin amendment could damage thais. As I said, this issue was discussed last night.

I am not interested in engaging in a row with the Senator or in forcing him to push the amendment to a vote. All of these ideas can be teased out in the weeks ahead.

We need to work together.

Sinn Féin needs to work with us. If the Senator would rather push the amendment to a vote, that is up to him. I would rather utilise the time available to us in the next month or six weeks to work together on our proposals and actions such that we can put in place a plan that will solve the problem once and for all.

This debate is due to conclude at 6.12 p.m.

In the interests of beginning as we mean to go on, I propose that the debate be extended to 6.30 p.m.

Is that agreed? Agreed.

I am a little confused. This must be a new type of Sinn Féin-love. During his contribution the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, attacked Fianna Fáil which has not been in power for the past five years. At the same time, the Government is seeking the support of Fianna Fáil. Life does not work that way with me but perhaps it does in Sinn Féin circles.

I congratulate the Minister of State on coming to the House with an open mind. He does not live far from me and I know that he is a hardworking Minister of State. He has listened to the proposals brought forward today, for which I commend him. However, there are a number of points with which I take issue, including one made by Senator Paudie Coffey. Having been Minister of State with responsibility for housing for some time, Senator Paudie Coffey will be aware that many of the problems that have arisen have nothing to do with money or the position in which the then Government found itself. The perfect storm was created. The spatial strategy which was fully implemented deals with only 20% of need indiscriminately across Ireland. The increase in the cost of building also occurred during the watch of the previous Government, 30% of which increase was due to increased regulation and oversight.

Construction workers continued to be demonised and there is no support for small self-employed builders. There was also no PRSI net available to builders if they got caught out badly, as many of them did. These measures and others such as the need for a 20% deposit have fed into the housing crisis. It is not sufficient for us to put our heads in our hands and say the crisis arose because of a lack of money and so on. All of the measures I have just mentioned have played a part in the development of the crisis. That is the reality.

Yesterday the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, referred on radio to the provision of a €200 million fund for infrastructure and the building of between 15,000 and 20,000 houses over three years. He then went on to say this money would not be available until 2017, which was a little confusing. Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, would update the House on the matter. Perhaps I misunderstood what the Minister said, much of which is reported in today's newspapers. As mentioned by Senator Kevin Humphreys, it feels a little like groundhog day in Punxatawney, with the Government caught in recurring groundhog nightmares.

During the election of 2011 we were promised that the lack of social housing would be immediately addressed by the incoming Government. In 2014 the then Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, promised that 35,000 social houses would be built or leased long-term and that an additional 75,000 house rentals would be provided for. They are the facts, which is crazy. We were also told that 13,000 new builds would be delivered in 2015. These figures were off the wall. What did we get? How many new social houses were built by 2015? The answer is 75, although I may be one or two off the mark.

There were 13,000 provided across all schemes.

Senator Aidan Davitt to continue, without interruption, please.

Senator Paudie Coffey is incorrect. Fewer than 12,000 houses were built across the country, half of which were one-off houses. I am speaking about social housing.

How many were built under the watch of Fianna Fáil in government?

The Senator had an opportunity to speak. Will he, please, allow Senator Aidan Davitt to speak?

A Senator

The Cathaoirleach is biased.

The Cathaoirleach is supposed to be impartial.


The biggest crisis in Ireland is the housing crisis in Dublin, yet all Sinn Féin can do is wring its wrists and tell others what to do. I will not be lectured by any party in power which does nothing to address an issue.

I welcome the Minister of State's statement that rent caps will be reviewed. As has been admitted by several Ministers, manipulation of applications for rent supplement and so on is the norm. I appreciate that the Minister of State proposes to examine the issue.

That is a step forward. At least if we address this issue, we can see where they are instead of merely going back to the welfare officer to make a decision on it, give additional rent support or whatever else. It is something that must be addressed.

I appreciate the presence of the Minister of State. I appreciate his openness with us and listening to our different bits and pieces and recommendations.

Many contributions have been made. We are looking at a multifaceted approach and there are just a couple of points I would like to make.

My first point is about the local authorities. We expect them to provide all possible incentives to engage in development, both residential and commercial. There is a need for this to happen. However, I understand that in 2013, when Phil Hogan was Minister, guidelines were sent to every local authority with a request that they revise their development contribution schemes. Approximately one third of the 31 local authorities have failed to do so. In some areas in County Mayo where there had been, say, additional investment in water and sewage infrastructure one could pay up to €5,000 just for that aspect of one's planning contributions on top of the regular price in other parts of the county. The Minister of State referred to dealing with the issue of development contributions. If this circular was sent to the local authorities and the county manager failed to bring it before councillors for a democratic debate, bearing in mind that these development schemes were set up at the peak of the Celtic tiger era and that, in the case of County Mayo, it comes back to the discretion of the manager, that is no way to do business. Especially in the likes of County Mayo, the cost of development contributions is a deterrent to development and one should not have to go cap in hand to a county manager to ask him or her to do this or that. It should be done in a democratic fashion and those who are interested in developing should know where they stand, which, in turn, would encourage them. It is poor that this is the rate. I ask that this matter be taken up with the local authorities that have failed to deal with it to date.

The other issue is the number of empty premises, particularly in town centres throughout the country. Much of the emphasis has been on the main housing crisis in the big urban centres, but there are housing problems throughout. Now that we are addressing them in an ambitious fashion, as the Minister of State described, similar to the Action Plan for Jobs, we must look at empty buildings in the middle of market towns. It is something about which I have spoken previously. Instead of leaving houses with a lot of architectural value empty when the last person on a street passes away - in rural areas, the problem is that people are building further and further out - we need to revitalise, repopulate and give a boost to small independent traders. The latter matter must be brought into it, because in talking about sustainable housing one is also talking about sustainable communities. The whole package must be brought to bear. There is a problem in that regard the length and breadth of the country and no matter how much we move towards full employment, in going into these towns many of which are market towns one will get depressed. I can well see how people would be because that is what one sees. When going around knocking on doors, I see it myself. It is something that must tackle and for which we must have a vision.

I suggest that, rather than having developer-led initiatives as in the past, when sometimes there were incentives for development for which there was no clear market demand, we have a scheme to provide for an area in the centre of a town to be zoned in conjunction with the local authority in an holistic approach such that either an owner-occupier or a first-time buyer would receive either a grant or a tax incentive to buy such a property. We would be going back to having places where people would be prepared to live. When I travel to continental Europe and see lovely towns and villages, I often think they are not lovely by accident. They are lovely because they have had a lot of TLC. We should follow with amenities for these towns and villages - a playground or whatever else is needed. In the case of rural areas, we should have a vision whereby within a certain radius one can be assured that one will find an ATM and a GP. Not all of these facilities will be implemented overnight because there are other factors, including the difficulty in retaining GPs for various reasons. We have this vision, both urban and rural. That would be a way to go. We must also support independent businesses by helping them, as opposed to the large multiples such as Tesco and Lidl, with commercial rates breaks. The large multiples are a different animal altogether, yet they are all being charged rates pretty much with the same formula. When one thinks about it, they are a different animal altogether in terms of the market they control compared to the small independent traders which give vitality. Of course, the vision must mean that we no longer look at small towns and say we must have corner shops everywhere. We also must acknowledge that the retail sector has changed. I am going back to the point I made about communities. Housing and communities go together. Consumers are buying online. We create a different image and vision. This is the challenge, through debate, that we face.

One of the objectives the Minister of State cited is having people stay in their own homes. From my experience, the practice of mortgage to rent and intervention by the local authority have not been the success one would have imagined. Much more attention could be given to that aspect. Then one would see benefits, with people being able to stay in their own homes.

One issue raised this morning on the Order of Business - the problems linked with pyrite and mica - comes within the remit of the Minister of State. For those affected - both in County Mayo and County Donegal, although I would be more familiar with the position in County Mayo, especially pyrite in blocks - we all would like to think we know where this is heading - that people will get assistance. I understand the complexities involved, but they were overcome in the local authorities in Dublin and further afield. I heard about a case a fortnight ago in which the person concerned could not sell their house. It was only when they came to sell their house that the survey revealed the problem. I have heard of a couple of cases in which people could not afford to retain structural engineers to carry out the tests. The expert group needs to get out on the ground sooner rather than later. It was indicated that would not happen, perhaps, until September. It must happen sooner in County Mayo. The drum has been beating for a long time. Things have been looked after on the east coast; they need to be looked after on the west coast. We are talking about people's homes. In fact, if it is not sorted, they will be out of their homes and we will have another problem to deal with, aside from the stress they are suffering.

I ask the Minister of State whether he will be in a position, either now or at another point, to get back to me on some of the points made.

First, I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House and giving of his time. I appreciate that he is busy.

This has been a good debate on homelessness and the provision of homes. Both the motion and the amendment are valid and I do not see any reason not to support both. That is my view.

There are many Senators who have personally experienced at first hand the issues in local authorities. I am disappointed to say my local authority, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, which would be considered to be one of the most affluent parts of the country, built six houses last year. There are 5,500 people on the housing list, many of whom are families. That is not a crisis; it is an emergency. Why are we all skirting? Everyone has used the word "crisis". Somehow, people cannot use the word "emergency". There seems to be a terrible fear that if we se the word "emergency", we will be opening up the floodgates. The reality is that local authorities have got away with it because they have not had a Minister on their case.

I was first elected in 1999. I am aware of the frustration of councillors where county managers effectively run certain local authorities or where they are being told they cannot seek cash or sell other assets to deliver houses and where there are people, to use that horrible expression, "sofa-surfing".

They are dragging their kids from house to house, sleeping on sofas rather than going into hostels in which, quite frankly, I would not put anybody. They have to walk from the suburbs to the city every day, being humiliated as they are asked to register as homeless. It is an insensitive and inhumane way of treating people. The local authorities have got away with it because the staff in the Custom House should have been on to them every week and month asking why they were not delivering.

I will be brief as I am conscious of the time, but I want to make a few points. I want the Minister of State, if he has not already done so, to secure an audit of zoned local authority lands in every county and within them the lands zoned for critical infrastructure. He should ask why there is no housing on that land. Why is there resistance to the direct building of social housing as we saw built in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, of which we are so proud today?

There is no resistance.

Why did the previous Government introduce a tenant purchase scheme when, for example, my local authority has built six houses and when we know that there are hundreds of people already applying and qualifying to purchase these houses? Forget about the principle of selling or not selling. We will be forced to sell more houses than we are building. What guarantee is there that when houses are sold, new houses will be built? I am not sure I want local authorities buying affordable accommodation in the market as I want first-time buyers to buy affordable properties. My local authority spent €500,000 on a house that needed to be done up in Blackrock, County Dublin. People cannot buy these houses and we must get back to the principle of direct provision, building and maintaining quality houses while having pride in them.

Will the Minister of State explain about the 500 modular houses? There was great fanfare last year about them, but where are they? There is none in my constituency. Councillors and members of the great political parties have consistently opposed social housing; therefore, why have the party hierarchies not hauled them in? They have taken the Whip and are members of these organisations; therefore, it should be indicated that it is unacceptable not to support the provision of social housing in communities. We do not divorce ourselves as a political body because we are in the Seanad, the Dáil or the council. If members are representing a party on the ground in the community, they must be held to account as to why they would not support the provision of social housing, in line with party policy and what is being espoused by the Government in the Houses of the Oireachtas.

With the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, billions of euro of property has been sold at a knock-down price. At a time when we have a national housing emergency, we have allowed such properties to go to vulture funds. We tried to ask the Department how many houses were offered by NAMA, but talk about trying to get an answer. We asked how many apartments were made available and where. We were told NAMA had sold them. Why is there no pressure on it to have an audit of properties? It is ridiculous.

There are major social consequences when people are not provided with a home and the dignity and comfort associated with it. There are social implications for children and there is exposure and vulnerability for families. There are also issues of child protection and safety, as they are hauled around the streets and into hostels before going back to councils, humiliated. We need to support people with other difficulties such as a disability and adult literacy problems who come to housing agencies. A woman came to my home two weeks ago saying she had approached a local housing authority three times, speaking through a plate glass about her social issues. She was asked to complete a form and it was an ordeal to complete that application. When she was asked to fill in the form, she went away - it was her third time to do so - as she did not know how to say she had numeracy and literacy difficulties. Nobody offered support or assistance in filling in the form. This is an issue about training and care. I do not want anybody to have to stand in front of plate glass speaking about their personal issues and circumstances. We need a more humane, understanding and compassionate system to deal with people. That is the reality. There are key issues that must be answered. We must do something. The really important point is that the Minister of State is newly responsible for housing. He and his staff must be on the case of all chief executives in councils every week, asking what is happening. We need to know, as this is more than a crisis. This is an emergency and must be treated as much.

Well done. I wish to share time with Senator Paul Gavan.

I echo the passionate comments of Senators Victor Boyhan and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh. This a society beyond crisis and in an emergency that is only growing. We have had an emergency for at least two years and it seems we have done nothing but grind to a halt. As public representatives, we have a moral responsibility to demand adequate resources to guarantee the provision of homes for people. Previous Governments failed miserably and ignored what was coming down the road. I have put this to both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, as they ignored an issue that was not rocket science, the lack of homes being built in the face of the growing needs of the population, especially in the Dublin region.

Homelessness has hit thousands of ordinary families and our mindset has changed from the single man spoken about. The count was 109 last night. Our image has changed to ordinary families who have lived precariously but have had jobs, with children being comfortable and looked after. When jobs were lost in the downturn, they lost their homes because of greed, increased rents and a lack of social housing. Many people will have to wait at least ten years for such housing.

As another Senator mentioned yesterday, I am concerned about the mental health and well-being of the 2,000 children in emergency accommodation. As an experienced councillor engaged in a mental health profession, I see people come to my clinics every week. Children who are seven, eight or nine years old are beginning to suck their thumbs again. They are beginning to be incontinent and doubly incontinent again. Most tellingly, they have gone dumb and cannot speak about their distress and anxiety. They are reverting to infantile behaviour and refusing to continue to walk, jump and play. They are sitting in a corner, dumb. Day in and day out they are being reared in prams. They have to get out of accommodation during the day, roam the streets and be accepted, quietly, at night, as if they are an embarrassment to the owners of these hotels.

There are thousands of so-called hidden homeless who are unaccounted for in box rooms throughout the State. Every family with a spare room have offered their daughter, son, friends or other family members the space of box rooms. This cannot go on as it is an emergency and we must treat it as such. Let us stop using the word "crisis". We are public representatives and accountable to those in dire need. Let us stand up to the plate. Fianna Fáil had a good discussion about women's refuges and we must take the issue in the context of the Women's Aid report. It contained horrific findings of the damage and destruction - physical, emotional and mental - caused to women and children. We must ensure there is adequate financing and resources for people caring for women and children in such cases.

I ask Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to stop shouting from the rooftops, as they so eloquently do in some of their speeches, and support the amendment moved by Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, with the motion on rent certainty to prevent homelessness. It would go some way towards mitigating the increase in rents by linking them with the consumer price index. I do not have much more to say.

The democracy of local authorities, promised by the former Minister, Phil Hogan, in Putting People First, An Action Programme for Local Government, is not evident in the mandate of councillors, especially when it comes to housing. Local authorities have been starved of finance and personnel in recent years and that has made things difficult. In the local authority for which I worked there is a 12-week turnaround time for housing, which is quite good. I think it is similar throughout the country. My suspicion is that because this is coming from Fine Gael it is a question of disinvesting in public services, whereas I want to invest in them. I do not want the disinvestment that will lead eventually to privatisation which is the ideology of those to my right.

We have witnessed our first Bobby Ewing moment in this new Seanad. It is as if our colleagues in Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael woke up this morning as born again social democrats with a lifelong commitment to investment in housing. The reality, however, was not a dream, it was a nightmare born out of an ideology of the hard right, that the State does not need to invest in housing any more, that it can leave it to the marketplace. That is what Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael did and the result was social catastrophe. Let us remember how we got here.

Having said that, if we are serious about endorsing new politics, this is the first test: is this an exercise in rhetoric or are we serious? If we are serious, we should all be able to agree not just on the motion, for I commend Fianna Fáil and which is well worded, but also on the amendment. If we are not serious about tackling the issue of rent certainty, we cannot say we want to tackle the housing crisis. If we can endorse the motion and the amendment, we can speak with a united voice and be serious about bringing about real change and challenging the Government on housing. Otherwise, it is an exercise in rhetoric.

I welcome the Minister of State and wish him well in this brief which is probably one of the most important any Minister of State could now have.

Much good has come out of this debate. We can all look back with hindsight, but it is a case of looking forward, although we have to learn from the mistakes made by all concerned. Who in this room can say they have not made mistakes or done things they might regret today? I agree with Senator Máire Devine that this is an emergency. We throw out statistics: tonight 2,121 children will sleep in emergency accommodation, 1,700 in this city alone, but, as the Senator said, behind each of them is a family. We can only look in horror at what the repercussions will be in years to come.

There are two ways to tackle the emergency. First, we could introduce emergency measures such as increasing rent allowance, which is all we can do. There is no silver bullet solution to the housing crisis. We need a strategy and a vision. In my county we talk about the number of hectares zoned for housing. How much of that zoned land could be built on tomorrow? How much infrastructure is in place? In my county there is a serious shortfall. Without the required infrastructure, zoning land is a waste of time.

Second, we must explore what type of housing we need. Families today are much smaller than they were 20 or 30 years ago. There are more separations and cases of divorce; partners move out and need accommodation. These are all factors. We need to consider long-term leases for property. For a long time the mentality was that renting a house was a short-term measure, for six months or a year. Now people can end up renting for 20 years. Families need to be protected. Perhaps we need legislation to give them long-term security in order that they will know where they will be and will not receive a letter one day telling them they have two or three months to vacate the property.

I was at a conference last weekend at which a gentleman quoted a statistic from the Central Statistics Office that every week 200 houses were put out of commission. That is a frightening statistic., of which I was not aware before then. What do we do about it? Do we tax those properties or do we give the owners an incentive to bring them back into commission? We need to consider all of these issues.

The tenant purchase scheme is back in vogue, whether we like it, and we can argue about its economics. Those in Part V housing are precluded from purchasing their houses. The Minister of State might consider this.

I thank all those Members who contributed to the debate with their insights into the housing crisis. I thank Fine Gael for supporting the motion. It means a lot that this House is passing the motion on an agreed basis. As Senator David Norris said, this sends a very clear signal that this House is prioritising housing and homelessness.

In her very eloquent contribution Senator Máire Devine said how important the issue of homeless children was. In my work I have come across the infantile behaviour to which children are reverting. I have seen children who live in buggies and have not developed their core strength and cannot walk at the correct time. This lack of development will work against them later in life and we should take this into consideration, too. It is an emergency.

Senator Paudie Coffey referred to the timing between the granting of funding and delivering housing units. The children referred to do not have that time. We should seriously consider some system to take care of them. I think it was Senator Collete Kelleher who referred to a system for tracking them. That is a very good suggestion and we in Fianna Fáil would support it to monitor them as they move through the system.

Senator Paudie Coffey referred to the Part V requirement. He mentioned the provision of cash in lieu of abiding by the requirement. I admit that it was perhaps a mistake and we hold our hands up. However, I put it to him that moving the requirement from 20% to 10% will have the same effect as accepting cash in lieu. The Minister of State might reconsider this.

Senators Paudie Coffey, Michelle Mulherin and Frank Feighan referred to urban regeneration. Senator Frank Feighan reflected on his experience of growing up over a shop. Many generations in Ireland were reared on main streets, above shops. I support what Senator Michelle Mulherin said, that perhaps we might consider a tax incentive for first-time buyers and owner-occupiers to come back into towns and villages and live over shops or take over terraced houses. There could be a grant for them to upgrade these properties to bring them up to modern living standards.

Senator David Norris referred to how vulture funds had put people out of their homes, which is something at which the Government should look. It was mentioned by another speaker that a four-year window would close rapidly. That will present its own problems in a few years time.

Senator Michelle Mulherin referred to the pyrite problem in the west. The matter has not been completely resolved on the east coast. In my constituency of Dublin Fingal there is a serious pyrite problem. I have met families who bought starter homes but who cannot move owing to the pyrite problem. Some families want to remain in their starter homes, but they want to carry out home renovations and add extensions to accommodate their growing families. Unfortunately, they are unable to carry out such works until the pyrite problem is solved. People have put their lives on hold for ten or 11 years at this stage. I urge the Minister of State to look at the matter and make sure people will no longer have to keep their lives on hold.

Senator Trevir Ó Clochartaigh said Fianna Fáil had a brass neck to table the motion. The only brass neck in this Chamber belongs to Sinn Féin. As my colleague, Senator Aidan Davitt, has pointed out, Sinn Féin is in power in local authorities in Dublin, yet the party has done nothing.

Many speakers have pointed out-----

That is absolute nonsense.

-----that the vast majority of the more than 2,000 children who are homeless live in Dublin. The facts speak for themselves.

Local authorities have been starved of funds to implement the plans of councillors.

Will the Senator, please, allow me to finish?

I am sorry, but, unfortunately, the time of Senator Lorraine Clifford-Lee has lapsed.

I will finish in one minute, if that is okay.

I will give the Senator 30 seconds because of the interruptions.

There is nothing like an impartial Cathaoirleach.

The Senator knows that I am impartial.

Senator Lynn Ruane made the valid point that we should not lose sight of rough sleepers. Now that more families are falling into the homeless cycle, the focus has moved from rough sleepers who have high needs and are highly dependent. I ask the Minister of State to address the matter.

Senator Rose Conway-Walsh referred to Fianna Fáil and its lack of investment in families. I point out to the House and the Senator, in particular, that Fianna Fáil introduced special needs assistants and increased child benefit. We also introduced a free pre-school year that levelled the playing field for children from low-income families, something of which we are very proud.

I am sure all colleagues would like to join me in welcoming to the Visitors Gallery the former Governor of South Carolina, Mr. David Beasley. He is most welcome.

Amendment put:
The Seanad divided: Tá, 11; Níl, 30.

  • Boyhan, Victor.
  • Conway-Walsh, Rose.
  • Devine, Máire.
  • Dolan, John.
  • Gavan, Paul.
  • Higgins, Alice-Mary.
  • Kelleher, Colette.
  • Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
  • Norris, David.
  • Ó Clochartaigh, Trevor.
  • Ó Donnghaile, Niall.


  • Ardagh, Catherine.
  • Burke, Colm.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Butler, Ray.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Byrne, Maria.
  • Clifford-Lee, Lorraine.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Daly, Paul.
  • Davitt, Aidan.
  • Feighan, Frank.
  • Gallagher, Robbie.
  • Hopkins, Maura.
  • Horkan, Gerry.
  • Lawless, Billy.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McFadden, Gabrielle.
  • Mulherin, Michelle.
  • Mullen, Rónán.
  • Murnane O'Connor, Jennifer.
  • O'Donnell, Kieran.
  • O'Donnell, Marie-Louise.
  • O'Mahony, John.
  • O'Sullivan, Ned.
  • Reilly, James.
  • Richmond, Neale.
  • Swanick, Keith.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paul Gavan and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh; Níl, Senators Gerry Horkan and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Motion agreed to.
The Seanad adjourned at 6.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 16 June 2016.